“We’re family when we sit at these tables.”
If there’s anything that will give you the Christmas spirit all year long, it’s watching the love shared between the volunteers at the City Mission of Schenectady and the 150 or so people from the community who come in for the mission’s nightly meals.
On one cold Wednesday night in early December, the evening’s volunteers from the community pull off the plastic wrap of the aluminum foil pans piled high with a rice dish and bread.
In one corner of the dining hall is a rolling cart stacked high with trays of 300 cupcakes, baked regularly for the meal by volunteers from St. John the Evangelist Church in Schenectady.
Before the doors open at 5:45, volunteers rush around setting out napkins, cups and pitchers of water on the round wooden tables. Each table has a centerpiece of flowers, providing a touch of spring at the cusp of winter.
When the crew is ready to serve, they open the glass door and the people waiting outside slowly stream in.
As they make their way to a table, an unassuming man strolls purposely through the crowd, stopping often to greet individuals by name, engaging them with a wide smile and a gentle handshake.
That’s Mike Saccocio, the executive director of the Mission, who appears to treat each opportunity to provide a meal for the city’s needy as a privilege he was lucky enough to have bestowed upon him.
Before they begin eating, organizers invite speakers to stand up and tell their stories.
One of them is Corey, a jovial New Jersey native who moved here 11 years ago and began volunteering at the mission six years ago at the urging of his wife.
Dressed in a New York Giants sweatshirt, gray knit hat, leather jacket and jeans, he treats a stranger as if they’ve been lifelong friends, grateful to have someone new join them for the evening.
“I’m blessed to be able to do what I love, which is helping people,” he says.
Anxious for his chance to speak, another individual stands before the Christmas tree and tells how volunteering at the mission kept him out of jail. He talks enthusiastically about the joy of giving back and about sharing and love.
Dinner is served soon after. Volunteers stand behind the stainless steel-and-glass serving area and dish out plates of food to the people as they quietly wait their turn.
The food comes from local food pantries, individual donations and local businesses.
The crowd this night is made up mostly of adults, but there are a few children in strollers. Some of the diners are elderly, disabled and in wheelchairs. They talk quietly among themselves and with the volunteers who stand off to the side ready to jump in with assistance. The meal doesn’t last long, about an hour or so, and then they all get up to leave.
As the people walk out the door, two lovely ladies from the church wearing red aprons and baseball hats hand each visitor a cupcake, making sure it’s the flavor the individual wants.
This is just one meal, one hour, one tiny element of the City Mission’s 24/7/365 service to the community.
The Mission, headquartered on Hamilton Street in Schenectady, receives no government funding.
Throughout the year, the mission provides 600 meals per day to people in the community, including three meals a day to those who live at its shelter and the nightly community meal.
Each night, the Mission provides a warm place to stay for about 100 men, women and children in its shelters. It also provides transitional shelter for up to 24 people who are working their way back into permanent homes. The Mission provides spiritual guidance, counseling, recovery assistance and training in basic life skills through its Bridges to Freedom program and other services.
The Mission accepts donations of clothing and operates a thrift store on Route 50 in Glenville. Each winter, the Mission provides 1,000 winter coats, as well as hats, boots and scarves, to individuals in need. To help people in their hunt for jobs, the Mission provides suits and shirts for job interviews.
At Christmastime, the Mission provides hundreds of toys to needy children, whose parents come in and pick out toys to give.
On the Mission’s website, citymission.com, it states that its goal is to provide “not only HELP for today, but HOPE for tomorrow” by meeting both the immediate basic needs of the community and by helping people transform their lives.
To do all this, as it has for the past 110 years, the City Mission relies on the generosity of the community for donations of food, money, clothing and volunteers.
The need for the services provided by the City Mission of Schenectady, is always there.
Fortunately, so too, is the love.