Heaven On Earth

IsabelBy Isabel McCormack, FC 20

What do I say about Francis House? I have heard it described so many different ways: God’s House, Heaven on Earth, Love House, and even though those might sound like cliché’s, they all describe Francis House perfectly. As a home for people who are dying, it might seem like Francis House should be something sad and depressing, but there could be nothing further from the truth. Francis House’s mission is to surround dying people with the unconditional love of God, and I know that not only the residents, but everyone who walks into Francis House feels that.

The house is run by a few crucial teams: the volunteers, staff, and the caregivers. Volunteers keep Francis House running; they are around every single day of the year, from 8am to 10pm. They cook and clean, answer doors and phones, garden, and do maintenance work. We could not run without the dedication of all of our volunteers. Caregivers are responsible for actually caring for each resident, by bathing, feeding, adjusting, and talking to the residents and their families. The staff is the glue for both of these groups by coordinating schedules, admitting residents, fundraising, and absolutely everything in between. And believe it or not, despite the amount of coordinating that it takes to run a place that merits the name Heaven on Earth, absolutely no detail goes amiss.

I have been so fortunate in the past few months to experience how Francis House runs in all of these ways, because it gives me a better appreciation for the miracle that is going on. When I started, I worked with the volunteers and staff, filling in and assisting them when needed. In November, though, I was given the opportunity by Francis House to be trained as a Home Health Aide to be able to work also as a caregiver. I was terrified when I first started, because the residents were entrusting me with the care of their whole selves, and honestly, that’s an enormous responsibility. I’ve grown more confident in the position though, and even though it’s challenging, it’s been so amazing and fulfilling. Not to mention, because the people at Francis House are the best of the best, I couldn’t have asked for better teachers.

The work at Francis House is not quantitative, which is something that I struggled with when I started. Over time though, that has been my favorite part about Francis House. You can’t quantify the power of a smile, a kiss, or an “I love you”. I just feel so lucky that residents have let me join them during the last stages of their journey home. There really is no feeling in the world, and it is hard to put into words, but there really is no feeling in the world that compares to the sacredness of getting people ready for their final stop: Heaven.

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Feeding The Soul

Rachel

By Rachel Zanfardino, FC 20

I learned how to read in the kitchen. My mom would hand me a recipe, ask me to read the next step, and then to do whatever it said. It was something that sort of came easy to me and that I enjoyed doing. I have two brothers, and as far as siblings go, we couldn’t be more different. But the one thing that always seemed to unite us was food. We all liked cooking it, baking it, experimenting with it, and most of all, eating it. My mom put a lot of effort into teaching each of us the basics and expanding those out into more advanced recipes and techniques. I certainly took these skills for granted, as I did not realize that other people did not connect to food the way that we did.

When discerning my post college life path, I knew that I wanted to do service. FrancisCorps allows you to have a say in the site that you end up at, which made the program really appealing. As someone who utilizes food to bring people together, spread joy, and as a love language, I knew that the position at the Assumption Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen would be a perfect fit.

Behind the walls of 808 North Salina St. lies a beautiful organized chaos that helps fuel the souls and bellies of many of the people in the neighborhood. These last four months have given me the opportunity to work with volunteers, order, organize, and distribute food, cook, problem solve, collect donations, have a whole bunch of laughs, and talk with the people. As an extroverted person, I have never had a hard time talking to people but I also have never gotten to talk with people like this.

Working the desk at the pantry, my clients come in eager to fill their bodies with nourishment, and provide for their families. I start out each conversation with a “how are you?” This common US phrase is pretty confusing when you really think about it, as most people answer with a “good” without even thinking about it. When I ask people “how are you” there is a more intentional response. People are so willing to share so much about their lives with me, and I am so interested in experiencing their reality with them.

We feed a lot people! In fact each month, the soup kitchen can feed anywhere from 200-400 people each day, and the pantry can feed anywhere from 200-300 families each month. That is 200-300 families in the Northside of Syracuse who are reliant on an outside resource to ensure that they are able to do one of the most innate human activities: eat. These numbers shocked me in the beginning of my service. This is partially because it’s such a large number, but it is also because it has made me reflect on the way that I take food for granted. 

There are a few really distinct things that I have learned since starting to work here: everyone gets hungry: you, your volunteers, your family, your clients, their families, everyone. This hunger plays a direct impact on people’s moods and abilities with, for example, being hangry or hungry and angry at the same time.  This can directly impact someone’s ability to work, provide love and affection to their family, or simply function in general. There are some things that food can fix.  Food has the ability to bring people together, uniting them over a common necessity. A simple extra cookie can bring joy to the face of almost any child, and a bowl of hot soup can warm someone’s whole body on these freezing Syracuse nights. There are some things that food cannot fix however. Food isn’t the one to listen when people come in to talk about their unsafe and unsettled relationships.

I may be helping to feed the people of Syracuse with food but they are feeding me right back. Feeding my soul with simple joys and nourishing my spirit with the reminder of the importance of stories and conversation. My job has reminded me how important it is to show each person in this world the human dignity that they deserve and are often denied. Being a part of a marginalized community, many of my clients are treated as less than. By learning each of their names and hearing their stories, I am becoming full with the joy of these relationships.