It’s easy to get lost in the noise of the holiday season.
Flash sales at big box stores. Christmas dinner planning. Last minute shopping (guilty!). Too often, society attempts to reinforce this notion that Christmas revolves strictly around the giving and receiving of material possessions. We live in a consumer world, where drones deliver packages to you that you ordered from your cell phone. It’s easy to get lost in the noise.
But this holiday season, the crew at SNOWED-IN implores you to think about the concept of giving a little differently. As a proud alumnus of St. Bonaventure University, I’m taking advantage of this platform to tell you about an incredible, admirable endeavor of the University - The Warming House.
In 1974, Fr. Dan Riley gathered students together to help him with a community service project. They would congregate with senior citizens of the community and provide them with coffee and donuts. But it’s purpose dug much deeper than that.
“They were bringing these people out of their isolation, and giving them a sense of community,” Fr. Francis Di Spigno, O.F.M. told me. “Over the 40 years, The Warming House transformed itself from coffee and donuts to providing full-fledged meals - but the mission has not changed.”
St. Bona, a short 25 minute drive from Ellicottville, resides on a gorgeous patch of the Enchanted Mountains. A Franciscan institution, Bona oft-times invokes the teachings of St. Francis in its goodwill work.
“St. Francis saw Christ in everyone,” Fr. Francis said. “He found God in all creation. When the city banished the lepers, he would go to them with food. He turned what was bitter into sweet - seeing those who were in need and helping them. Those who felt disconnected, marginalized and alienated. We follow his teachings, and apply those teachings to The Warming House.”
Fr. Francis calls The Warming House “one of the jewels of the University’s outreach into the local community.” Open 6 days a week, it serves over 12,000 hot, nutritious meals annually to those in need. However, those being fed aren’t the only ones receiving.
“The mission is to feed people,” he said. “But it’s not just the community or those in need - it’s the St. Bonaventure community. It’s a two-way street. We need a population that we might not necessarily have a conversation with. You see, after St. Francis saw Christ, he stopped looking at the lepers as decrepit. He saw them as beautiful creations of God. Outreach such as The Warming House stretches us beyond ourselves, gets us out of our comfort zone and acquainted with those who are different.”
Jordan Garrett, a student at Bona, is one of six student coordinators who galvanize their peers into volunteering at The Warming House. Although serving meals is a primary task, they are also dedicated into spreading awareness, organizing what will be cooked, scheduling and other administrative duties. But he told me that none of it really feels like work.
“The feeling of gratitude you get from helping is one that I can’t really describe,” he said. “We’re not approaching this as a job. If you do that, you’re lacking an understanding of what the real message, the real mission is. It’s about understanding a different walk of life and building a relationship with someone who’s different than you are. But at the end of the day, you begin to realize that we’re all not that much different.”
The Warming House relies on grants, donations and volunteers to keep its wheels turning. The Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, United Way, Cutco Knives, The Home Depot and the Food Bank of WNY are all big reasons The Warming House can continue its mission.
“St. Francis’ conversion is one that I would love to see all people experience - to see Christ and God in all things and all people,” Fr. Francis said. “On the surface, the mission is to feed those who may not have the ability to feed themselves. But a strong piece of The Warming House is to not only feed our guests, but feed ourselves as well - spiritually. This brother and sister adventure we’re all on helps us never forget who we really are.”
If you’d like to donate or help at The Warming House, Fr. Francis (or St. Bonaventure’s University Ministries) can be reached at 716-375-2142. For more information, call Fr. Francis or head to www.sbu.edu.