By William T. Clew
“This is not your usual soup kitchen,” said Bill Riley, manager of the St. Francis Xavier Center Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry.
Mr. Riley spoke at the formal dedication of the new extension to the center Wednesday morning. Father John Madden, pastor of St. John Parish, blessed the facility. Francis R. Carroll, chairman of the Friends of St. John’s Food for the Poor Program, was master of ceremonies.
The center, at the west side of the St. John’s Church parking lot on Temple Street, serves from 450 to 600 hot breakfasts and lunches five days a week and more than 130,000 meals a year. The extension adjoins the center’s dining hall.
The extension, a building that once was home to the Union Station Farms fruit and vegetable store, was converted to a storage area with walk-in refrigerators and freezers and areas for food preparation and storage.
It was made possible through the generosity of individual and corporate donors and a 2015 Activation Fund grant of $100,000 from The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, according to a press release from St. John’s. More than $300,000 was raised for the project.
Mr. Riley said the new extension gives more room to accept and store food, which will make it possible to serve more meals. He said the kitchen begins to serve hot breakfasts at 6 a.m. Lunch is served from about 7:30 until 11 a.m. The kitchen is closed on weekends, but he and volunteers work both days to receive and store food donations.
He said that with the expanded storage space they are able to store fresh fruit and vegetables. The kitchen is the first in the area to serve fresh-cut fruit and vegetables.
“Instead of giving them six doughnuts we can serve nutritious meals,” he said.
Depending on what is donated, the kitchen can serve a variety of meals, including steak and even sushi, he said. It can make a big difference for people who are living on “food stamps and $34 a week.” They can have a healthy meal and take food from the pantry home with them, he said.
According to the press release, the food pantry distributes more than 10,400 food packages a year. A new program provides free birthday cakes and ice cream for needy families.
More than “900 volunteers from all walks of life, including students from area high schools and colleges,” serve the Food for the Poor Program, the press release said.
Provisions are donated daily from Stop & Shop. Other donors include Sam’s Club, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dimitria Delights, Goya Foods Inc., Maines Paper and Food Service, Assumption College, the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester Academy and individuals and businesses.