Reaching out to neighbors in need serves as the foundation for St. Martin’s Place, which has for 22 years provided hot meals to Rochester’s northeast community.
“I think it’s very important that we have been here for over two decades and our neighbors can depend on us,” said Sister Frances Sweeney, who co-directs the ministry with Sister Clare Ehmann and Joanne Corcimiglia. “People have so many things to cope with these days, and we try to be there for them.”
Sister Sweeney estimated that St. Martin’s serves anywhere from 100 to 120 guests per month. A large number walk through the door suffering from addiction, mental illness, homelessness or life’s setbacks.
“We try to encourage people as best as we can, but every story is so different,” Sister Sweeney said. “And it’s amazing that despite the setbacks, guests come in here with such a wonderful spirit and concern.”
Located in the basement of the former Mt. Carmel Elementary School on Ontario Street in Rochester, St. Martin’s Place serves hot meals three times a week. In addition, the ministry offers a morning preschool program, an afternoon meeting place for members of Narcotics Anonymous and, most recently, a writer’s workshop.
St. Martin’s Place is funded by donations, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester and the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal.
“Everyone has been so generous to us,” Sister Sweeney said. “It’s really a shared effort by so many parishes and people from all religions and backgrounds. It’s been a blessing and truly shows how God’s work is being done here.”
In addition to the co-directors, St. Martin’s operates with anywhere from 75 to 80 volunteers in all of its programs, including the new writer’s workshop, which began last year. The workshop offers assistance with job applications, resumes or any related instruction. The volunteers in that program have even referred clients to other GED programs. Sister Ehmann said she is pleased with the response to the workshop.
“We’re really flexible in the assistance we offer,” she explained. “But so far we really seem to be responding to a need that’s out there. And that fits in well here at St. Martin’s.”
Sister Ehmann plans to continue to work in this ministry, and said she receives great fulfillment in working in the City of Rochester.
“I appreciate hobnobbing with such a diverse group of people from the guests all the way to the volunteers,” she said. “I learn so much, and am amazed how people are willing to help each other. I certainly get more out of this work than I put into it.”
Corcimiglia, a member of Ss. Peter and Paul Church, agreed.
“In many ways, St. Martin’s is like having another family,” she said. “We really come to love the people, and we look after each other. If I have a problem, they are there for me too. I take as much as I give to it.”
With such a transient clientele, it is often difficult to track the progress of guests through the years, but the co-directors do have some memorable experiences.
According to Sister Sweeney, one longtime guest recently came in for a hot meal and announced he would not be back.
“He said he had gotten a job and would be earning a regular paycheck,” she recalled. “He’s doing really well from what I hear. It’s those stories that really make us feel good.”
Corcimiglia enjoys seeing the children in the preschool program.
“I love seeing them as they journey through the education process,” she said. “I work with them, and they all know their basics when it’s time for school.”
All agree that St. Martin’s fills a much-needed void in the community. If the ministry didn’t exist some volunteers think many would be lost.
“Some of people would definitely feel a loss,” said Kay Curran, a longtime volunteer. “We don’t lock the doors, so people can come in during the morning to stay warm. It means so much to so many people. Although there are a lot of transients, there are also a lot of regulars and you build relationships. There are times of joy and sorrow, just like in anyone’s life, but we share it all here.”