By LINDA M. LINONIS
Mondays mean meatloaf and mashed potatoes at St. Vincent de Paul dining hall, 208 W. Front St. The menu for the other weekdays changes, but Monday has the popular main course. But it takes money to make that happen.
For the many who need a hearty and healthy meal, the dining hall, commonly known as the soup kitchen, fills a need.
Brian J. Antal, president St. Vincent de Paul of Mahoning County, said it’s the kind of need that everyone wants to see decline. The society is on track to provide some 104,000 meals in 2012, up from a record 93,000 meals in 2011, he said.
A total of 9,111 meals were served in July. About 45 percent of those who eat at the dining hall are children, Antal said.
Cooking meals at the dining hall and storing groceries at the food pantry at 317 Via Mount Carmel takes money, manpower and equipment. That’s why the St. Vincent de Paul Society is conducting a capital campaign and planning a steak-fry fundraiser Sept. 15. Antal said the dining hall building, which the society owns, is about 80 years old. “Last year we replaced the roof for $30,000,” Antal said. Now the society must address cracking and crumbling mortar on the rear wall of the building.
Skip Barone, dining hall manager for a decade, said the deteriorating masonry has caused a water problem in the basement. That issue must be addressed, he said.
He said the dining hall also needs a five-shelf convection oven. The cost is about $5,000. “When you’re cooking for 250 people, space is at a premium,” he said. Also needed are stainless-steel serving carts.
At the food pantry, new refrigerators and freezers are a necessity. The society also would like to buy a box truck. It currently has one van that is in high demand at both sites.
Barone said the kitchen crew of four or more people starts to cook about 7 a.m. Each week, a different church, community or civic group sends about 10 volunteers daily to serve and clean up. For example, during the week of Aug. 19, members of St. Joseph Church of Austintown volunteered and also sponsored the week by donating $500 to buy supplies for meals.
Barone said the dining hall depends on volunteers. Among diverse groups that give time are Merrill Lynch, Youngstown State University hockey team, Mooney and Ursuline high schools, Youngstown Area Board of Realtors and St. Elizabeth Health Center.
There are 22 Catholic churches and representatives of many other denominations who volunteer. St. Charles Borromeo in Boardman makes chili-mac from October through May, and St. Dominic makes soup during the winter. Immaculate Heart of Mary collects paper towels. “It all helps,” Barone said, offering the example that it takes 80 pounds of ground meat and six dozen eggs to make the popular meatloaf. The dining hall uses six pounds of sugar and five pounds of coffee daily; it makes two 100-cup pots of coffee weekdays for lunch from 10:30 a.m. to noon.
St. Michael Church in Canfield prepares breakfast, which is offered from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturdays.
The society, Antal said, buys mostly from Sniderman’s and Boardman Vegetables. Donations of breads and sweets often come from Nemenz IGA, Giant Eagle and Sparkle. Banquet centers donate leftover food from special events. It all helps the bottom line, Antal said.
The dining hall serves an average of 250 meals a day. It also makes 150-180 bagged lunches for three after-school programs in Youngstown schools. Those go out the door at 1:30 p.m. for delivery, Barone said.
So far this year, Antal said, the dining hall has spent $75,000; the food pantry, $62,000; and general expenses were $29,000.
“We see people from all walks of life,” Barone said. “We don’t ask questions. We want to have a welcoming atmosphere.”