Warming House Finds a Home … For Now

Rebecca Doel Around the Province

OLEAN, N.Y. — After a nearly six-month search, St. Bonaventure University’s student-run soup kitchen received approval on Dec. 13 to open its doors at 164 Noth Union Street, a main road in this small Western New York city.

The new location of the Warming House, a nearly 40-year-old ministry of the university, has been a topic of much debate in the city. Approval of the move was granted by a 4-2 vote from the city’s planning board— with some conditions.

According to the Olean Times Herald, the board will reconvene in six months to evaluate the Warming House’s impact on the 100 block of Noth Union Street.

“If the soup kitchen has negatively impacted neighboring businesses and the public, created a nuisance or unsanitary conditions and failed to make a positive impact on its guests, the planning board will seek to have the soup kitchen move,” reported the Times Herald.

The search was conducted by Lawrence Sorokes, director of the Center for Community Engagement; Sr. Suzanne Kush, CSSF, director of the Franciscan Center for Social Concern and F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, vice president for the Franciscan Mission. Some 14 different sites were considered in terms of accessibility, usability and cost.

In a letter to the editor that appeared in the Dec. 4 issue of the Olean Times Herald, Ed wrote: “It is not our intention to do anything that would undermine the city’s efforts to build up the business core. We also recognize our responsibility to both care for any property where the Warming House might be housed and to do our best to make sure our guests are as respectful of others as we strive to be of them.”

In preparation for a Dec. 8 planning board public hearing, the university sponsored an “Open Community Conversation” and Sr. Margaret placed a one-page appeal to the local community in the Times Herald.

“So much new information came to light at the public hearing,” Ed said, “that the planning board delayed action until the following Monday.”

“I’m deeply grateful for the trust placed in us and our good intentions,” university president Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, told the Times Herald. “I’m very relieved because I was very frightened that it may have taken months to get this decision.”

On Dec. 17 — as 27,000 non-perishable food items from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in Buffalo, an annual donation, were being delivered to the basement of the proposed new location — the building inspector finally agreed to issue the occupancy permit upstairs.

The Warming House, the oldest student-run soup kitchen in the country, serves more than 9,500 meals each year. It is one of several outreach and service efforts the university provides to the city of Olean.

— Rebecca Doel is communications coordinator of Holy Name Province.