Diocese's Vita Award honors Geneva man - Catholic Courier

Diocese’s Vita Award honors Geneva man

When Joseph Cirencione heard he’d been chosen to receive the Diocese of Rochester’s Vita Award, he was “flabbergasted,” he said.

“I was kind of shocked. I had no idea,” Cirencione told the Catholic Courier.

The Vita Award is given each year to an individual who has made a deep commitment to the consistent life ethic, which is the principle that urges Catholics to affirm life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. The Vita Award also recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions in support of the dignity of life.

Cirencione, a member of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva, was nominated by his pastor, Father Roy Kiggins, and the parish’s social-ministry coordinator, Marie Milligan, for his work with the People’s Food Co-Op in Geneva. Through this co-op, individuals and families are able to receive food for reduced prices once a month.

Cirencione founded the co-op 15 years ago with Milligan and several other volunteers, and he has served as its director ever since. They realized there was a need for such an outreach when they noticed people often came to Geneva’s St. Francis de Sales and St. Stephen parishes — which later merged to become Our Lady of Peace Parish — for financial assistance with their grocery bills.

“We had people that were coming to the church looking for money to buy food with,” Cirencione remarked. “(The pastor) kept sending them on to the local store, and then the bills were getting up in the thousands.”

Cirencione and his wife, Anne, had occasionally dropped off donations at their local food pantries, but that was the extent of their involvement in hunger-relief efforts. Nonetheless, he knew something had to be done, so he and about eight other parishioners founded the People’s Food Co-op.

Working through Foodlink, the cooperative was able to offer food to individuals and families at greatly reduced prices. For example, a family might come in and be able to purchase $31 worth of groceries for just $15, Cirencione said.

“We were able to stretch their grocery money,” he remarked.

The cooperative is still helping people stretch their grocery money, although it now works with the Food Bank of Central New York instead of Foodlink. The food bank delivers food to the cooperative, which is located in the Knights of Columbus headquarters in Geneva, on the third or fourth week of each month. The cooperative’s clients sign up ahead of time, and then come to pick up their food on a prearranged date toward the end of the month.

“We have the tables set up with the food all laid on the table, and people walk around and pick up their food and leave,” Cirencione said.

The cooperative has provided thousands of weeks worth of food since its inception, and it currently serves between 50 and 55 people each month. It is staffed by the same nine volunteers that have run it for 15 years, Cirencione said.

Cirencione said he didn’t get involved or stay involved in the ministry expecting to receive accolades, and was quite surprised that he did.

He was in Dallas on a business trip for his employer, New York Life Insurance Co., when he learned Jann Armantrout, diocesan life-issues coordinator, had called for him. When he returned Armantrout’s call he learned he’d been chosen to receive the Vita Award.

“Jann told me what it was all about and I was quite flabbergasted,” he recalled. “It just kind of blew me away. I didn’t realize anybody was watching me that closely.”

Cirencione received his award at Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ annual Sharing the Light dinner June 10 at Club 86 in Geneva. He’d seen past Vita Award recipients honored at other dinners, but being the center of attention himself was “kind of surreal,” he said.

That night, Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes also honored six individuals with its Sharing the Light Award. This award, which was established in 1995, is given to individuals and couples who have actively served others, contributed to the betterment of their communities and reflected God’s healing light to those in need of love, kindness, hope and understanding.

This year’s Sharing the Light Awards went to Father Kiggins, John and Kay Meisch, Ellie Fralick and the Rev. James and Suzanne Adams. Father Kiggins was recognized for his personal focus on pastoral care, especially to the homebound; for his ministry to and advocacy for migrant farmworkers and others from Latin America; his support of the young people at his parish and at St. Francis-St. Stephen School; and his support of the many ministries at his parish.

The Meisches, who belong to Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community in Yates County, were honored for extensive volunteer work in the Rushville area. Fralick was honored for a lifetime spent helping people through her professional and volunteer experience in the fields of health and human services. The Rev. Jim and Sue Adams, who serve as rector and parish administrator, respectively, for St. Peter Episcopal Church in Geneva, were recognized for both their ministry at the church and their active participation in and support of various community programs.

This story was updated on July 14, 2008.

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