ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — As the spread of COVID-19 continues and some area families struggle to put food on the table, St. Bonaventure University’s Warming House is there to help.
Located at 164 N. Union St. Olean, and considered the oldest student-run soup kitchen in the country, the Warming House has reimagined how it offers its outreach ministry of serving warm, nutritious meals six days a week for local people in need.
When the coronavirus numbers began to rise earlier this year, the student and community volunteers quickly transitioned the usual sit-down meals into a takeout service. By the end of July, they had served more meals this year than in all of 2019.
Alice Miller Nation, director of Bona’s Franciscan Center for Social Concern, noted that the university is committed to keeping the Warming House open, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Some of the guests who come to the Warming House have jobs, but they don’t make enough money to pay for their cars and now that winter is coming, for heat. If they utilize the Warming House, making those payments becomes a little easier,” Miller Nation said.
The outreach ministry also serves as a “classroom” outside the university. It is a place of learning and reflection about the faces of hunger. Miller Nation said she leads group discussions with student volunteers about human relationships and the world’s food and agricultural systems.
“It gives our students a place to practice Franciscan values lived out every day,” she said. “We want that Franciscan heart to be taken from Bona’s to boardrooms, conference rooms, classrooms and athletic fields.”
One student who has been transformed by the experience of volunteering is Hiryu “Mike” Waseda, a senior history major from Saitama, Japan.
Waseda began volunteering at the Warming House at the beginning of the pandemic, when other Bona students returned home for the remainder of the spring semester.
“I was sad and lonely, and I don’t like to kill time doing nothing,”Waseda said. “I heard from people that the Warming House was looking for volunteers. I went to talk to Alice and that’s how I started to volunteer.”
Waseda said he enjoys the connection formed between volunteers and the guests who visit daily to pick up food. Being at the Warming House is also a way for him to put Franciscan values into action. “I wanted to do something special and contribute back to society and to the Bonaventure community,” he said.
Miller Nation praised the students for their hard work throughout the year. “They endured several iterations of new cleaning and sanitizing policies that led us to where we are now. They also experienced quarantine when another volunteer they worked with tested positive,” she said. “They worked with community volunteers and SBU faculty and staff who stepped up to make sure the Warming House was able to stay open and care for our guests with the same kindness and generosity they had grown accustomed to over the years. Throughout it all, they got to know our guests well and saw our guests on their good days as well as bad days, days of fearing the virus and like many of us, getting used to it as part of our lives.”
To help raise money and awareness for the Warming House, the FCSC will host #GivingTuesdayatBonas, a one-day fundraising event on Dec. 1 with a goal of raising $40,000.
“The cost of running all of our outreach ministry programs is approximately $150,000 per year,” Miller Nation said. “Raising $40,000 on Dec. 1 will go a long way in helping to fund these crucial initiatives.”
Community members are encouraged to visit www.sbu.edu/GivingTuesdayatBonas now through Dec. 1 to learn more and to make a donation.