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Franciscan Ministry
Homeless and Working Poor Find Nourishment for the Body and Spirit at St. Francis Seraph Ministries

Guests enjoy dinner at Mother Teresa of Calcutta Dining Room, part of St. Francis Seraph Ministries in Cincinnati.

Short on food and finances after a debilitating accident, “Kalisha” found help at St. Francis Seraph Ministries (SFSM) in Over-the-Rhine, a neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, where more than 35% of the population lives below the poverty level. Grateful to the Franciscan friars for helping restore normalcy and dignity to her life, Kalisha returned as a volunteer at Mother Teresa of Calcutta Dining Room – where, once a guest, she is part of the team serving more than 350 guests who come to the daily buffet-style breakfast and dinner.

The majority are homeless, many are working poor, and others are just in need of a nutritious meal. Whatever the reason, all find a welcoming, warm and joyful environment when they step inside from the frigid weather and despair of the streets. The small village of volunteers doesn’t just feed guests; they nourish them with the culinary creations of chef Gina Dye, who’s been with SFSM for 16 years. The cuisine (roasted turkey and chicken, succulent pot roast, baked ham, spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread) and service got the attention of Cincy Magazine, which named SFSM “Best Soup Kitchen” of 2023 in its annual nonprofit of the year awards.

David Crank, OFM, with a guest at St. Francis Seraph Ministries, is the first to greet guests when they arrive for breakfast and dinner.
Volunteers in the kitchen packing “mobile meals,” part of the Bag Lunch Program at Mother Teresa Dining Room.

Guests call SFSM a haven that provides food for the body, mind and spirit – a unique place because friars and volunteers sit with them during breakfast and dinner, interested in their stories and eager to connect them with the assistance they need to help transform their lives.  

It’s a safe space for people like “Larry,” a homeless guest who suffers with mental illness. He drops in for breakfast, but passes up the buffet of eggs, pancakes and cereal, instead picking up a brown-bag lunch and sitting in his usual spot on the floor in a corner of the lobby.

“Our guests aren’t just numbers. We treat them with the dignity and respect that every person deserves. We want them to know God’s goodness and love. If someone prefers to sit on the floor 

instead of at a table, or if someone comes in just to keep warm, it’s fine with us – as long as I know their first name!” said David Crank, OFM, a client services coordinator and member of the SFSM team since 2019 who is the first person to welcome guests – always by name – when the doors open for breakfast and dinner at the dining room established nearly 40 years ago.

St. Francis Seraph Ministries, whose programs are located at St. Anthony Center,  is a sanctuary for the homeless, poor, substance addicted and mentally ill, offering food, clothing, job training programs, and other outreach services under one roof in a safe, respectful and compassionate environment.

In addition to Mother Teresa Dining Room, SFSM consists of Sarah Center – which teaches marketable skills (sewing, quilting and jewelry-making) that translate into local employment opportunities for participants – and

A guest in one of the sewing classes held at SFSM’s Sarah Center, where participants learn skills that translate into employment opportunities.

Foot Care for the Souls, a program that provides new shoes and socks to the homeless. The dining room also sponsors a Bag Lunch Program, distributing “mobile meals” to homeless guests and day laborers, and thousands more to emergency homeless shelters. SFSM helps struggling families with rent and utility bill payments, medical costs, and prepaid bus passes.

St. Anthony Center in Over-the-Rhine is home to St. Francis Seraph Ministries and other nonprofits that SFSM has partnered with to serve the poor and homeless of a community in which more than 35% of the population lives below the poverty level.

SFSM partners with several independent nonprofits that have space at St. Anthony Center – including Mary Magdalene House, which offers homeless guests private shower facilities, laundry service and new clothes, and the Center for Respite Care, which provides high quality, compassionate health care. Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services offers on-site mental health services and helps place guests in stable housing.

“We continue the legacy and work started by the Franciscans, following their vision and modeling the life of St. Francis of Assisi in his care for the poor and marginalized,” said SFSM Director Mary Pat Raupach.

“Our response is more than providing food and sending people on their way. It’s growing in relationship, spending time getting to know them, and helping them with the assistance they need,” said Tim Sucher, OFM, who provides a listening ear to the homeless and prays with them at St. Francis Seraph Church (across from the center), where they are invited by the friars to take refuge from harsh winter temperatures, relax and enjoy their bag lunch.

David shared encounters at SFSM that have brought him to tears – a homeless guest who wanted to reciprocate welcome and hospitality by inviting him to his home on the banks of the Ohio River, and “Paul,” who was so grateful to David for helping to place him in a residential rehabilitation program, that he gave the friar his program certificate for safe keeping.

Chef Gina Dye has been nourishing guests at the SFSM soup kitchen with a menu of nutritious culinary creations for the past 16 years.

“I have come to understand what it means to be homeless and hungry by getting to know the people who God sends to us every day. In my daily prayer, I picture those who I encounter, and I can’t help but see the face of Jesus in every one of them,” said David.

Content for this article compiled and written by Steve Mangione.

Photos in this article courtesy of the website of St. Anthony Shrine, Cincinnati, Ohio, and St. Francis Seraph Ministries Facebook Page.

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