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Soup's On: Reflections from the Soup Kitchen


On January 9, 2024 Emmaus Soup Kitchen marked 50 years of serving meals to the hungry of Erie. Sister Jacqueline Sanchez-Small, Staff Writer, shares some scenes exactly 50 years after opening night on January 9, 1974.

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“Tonight is a special night! You know how you just had your fifth birthday, Liam? Well, today is our 50th birthday!” Sister Valerie Luckey, Emmaus Director, told a little boy who was sitting down for dinner with his family. “So we’re having homemade bread and mashed potatoes and soup and pot roast and… ice cream sundaes!”


The boy’s eyes lit up at the mention of ice cream. “It’s your birthday?” he said.


“It’s the birthday of this whole place; it’s fifty years that we have been serving dinner,” Sister Val said.


“Happy birthday!” Liam cheered.


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The tables throughout the dining rooms were set with red gingham tablecloths and vases with flowers, matching the decorations from the first dinner back in 1974. The meal was more well-balanced than it was fifty years ago, with pot roast and dessert on the menu, but there was homemade soup and bread at both meals. 


Thick sliced bread had been baked by Margaret Kloecker, a Benedictine Oblate who has been on staff at Emmaus for over thirty years, and buttery rolls and cheese biscuits made by Sister Marcia Sigler, who volunteered at Emmaus for decades.  


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Before the serving of the 50th anniversary meal began, the volunteers wondered if there would be much turnout. The weather was terrible, with gusts of wind up to 65 miles per hour whipping through the streets of downtown Erie. People who had the option to stay inside would probably take it, the volunteers thought. But in the guests came, one hundred and fifty people who were cold, wet, hungry, and excited to see familiar faces behind the serving line. Three of the servers––Margaret Kloecker, Benedictine oblate, and Sisters Lucia Surmik and Marcia Sigler––each have spent over thirty years at Emmaus, and Sisters Lucia and Marcia only recently retired. 


As guests came through the line and recognized them, one after another exclaimed, “Sister! I missed you! How’ve you been? Remember me?”


The other three women who were on the serving line––Sisters Dianne Sabol, Carolyn Gorny-Kopkowski, and Rosanne Lindal-Hynes––had been there the very first night in 1974. 


Sister Dianne was in her early twenties then, and was a member of the Pax Center, the Benedictine intentional living group for Christian nonviolence, whose members opened Emmaus. “The first night was so quiet, and we had just one or two guests,” she remembered. “You can’t imagine all the meetings we had at the Pax Center when we were planning to open! We thought, all that work and nobody came? But look at what this soup kitchen has become––a beautiful community for so many.” 


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Then the rain stopped, and the wind died down, and a vibrant rainbow stretched across the sky. Guests and volunteers ran to the windows and doors to marvel at it, and many said it felt like a sign from Sister Mary, the Director of Emmaus for 42 years, who died in May 2023. 


People were still talking about it half an hour later, after it had faded from view, and were telling the guests who were just coming in about how the rainbow had arched right over the soup kitchen.


“Want to see a picture of it?” I asked a guest, pulling up a photo on my phone.


The guest, an older lady, smiled and tears came to her eyes. “You know what that rainbow means? It means, ‘Hope.’”


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Emmaus is about sharing food. But it’s also about sharing beauty. The youngest guests know that as well as any staff member or volunteer. In the family room, a three-year-old girl who had just climbed into her high chair squealed with joy as she ran her hands over the checkered tablecloth. She said to her six-year-old brother, who was hanging his coat over the back of his chair, “Henwy! Look! It’s so pwetty! Are you looking?” Later, as the family was getting ready to leave, I showed Henry the photo of the rainbow over the soup kitchen, pointing out the building. “We’re in here right now, and that was the rainbow right above us!” I said.


“Wow,” he said. “Show Lucy! She’s gonna say, ‘That’s pretty!’ Lucy, come look!”



Photos--Top to Bottom:

1.Sister Dianne Sabol heads up the serving line.

2.Soup Kitchen Cook, Carly DiFuccia, prepares the pot roast for serving alongside Rita Scrimenti, Social Worker.

3.Table decorations reflect the soup kitchen in the 1970s.

4.Sister Marcia Sigler, left, shows off homemade bread with Margaret Kloecker, Staff and Oblate.

5.Sister Carolyn Gorny-Kopkowski (left) and Sister Dianne Sabol

6.Sister Rosanne Lindal-Hynes, Women's Advocate, serves buttery mashed potatoes.

7.The rainbow was a sign of hope for everyone gathered.

8.The volunteer crew scoops up ice cream for sundaes.

9.Sister Lucia Surmik, former Soup Kitchen Cook, offers a joy-filled smile.

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