Last week Bishop Sean asked the diocese to pray for the city of Bradford because a 24-inch water main broke Monday, February 23rd. The city’s three million gallon water tank was emptied, along with the reserve tank holding two million gallons. More than 18,000 people were affected by this break. There was no water; people even had to melt snow in order to flush their toilets. No one expected Church of the Ascension’s free soup lunch to happen on Thursday the 26th.
“We’re not going to let a little thing like water hold us back,” said the Ven. Gail Winslow, the archdeacon of the diocese who is assigned to Church of the Ascension. Typically, Ascension serves a free soup lunch every Thursday to about 30-40 people. The Rev. Stacey Fussell says that, “typically people in the community who come are nutritionally at risk and economically disadvantaged,” meaning they don’t have enough money to feed themselves three times a day. Mother Stacey also says that, “in Bradford, over 50% of households receive some sort of Federal assistance and 70% of kids receive free or reduced school lunches.” However, Ascension’s doors are open to anyone who wants to come. And on this particular Thursday they did.
It is no easy task to get soup to the multitude when there is no water. Archdeacon Gail, who is famous for his soups (“The chicken in my chicken noodle soup didn’t just pass through the soup, it drowned in it.”), cooked the soup in Warren, PA, and drove it over 30 miles to get it to Bradford. Others brought in bread, fruit and cookies. Volunteers had to bring in bottled water from other communities to make the coffee and tea. So many volunteers brought in water that they were able to give bottles out to the guests to take home.
Archdeacon Gail isn’t surprised by this kind of generosity though. “I’ve had so many donations. They bring me the food and I make soup out of it.” With all the donations and volunteer support, he is able to serve over 40 people on about $50 a week. A modern day loaves and fishes!
When people started showing up they were relieved that the church was open. All told, Church of the Ascension served around 60 people including the Kiwanis club, the book club and the volunteers. They got what they always get, soup and fellowship. Archdeacon Gail describes it like this: “We always talk to our guests when they come in. It’s a comfort to them. They come for the community.” One guest who is struggling economically insisted on paying $5. She was moved by the fellowship and generosity and said, “I really believe God wants me to give you this $5.”
The Gospel is truly at work in Bradford, PA. Thankfully the water has been restored and the soup will go on!
Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania