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Sewickley's St. Paul Lutheran Church feeds homeless men — in body and spirit

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Members of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sewickley serve meals to homeless and displaced men at North Common Ministries-Pleasant Valley Men's Shelter on the North side on Sunday October 13, 2013. They serve the meals the second Sundays every other month.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Margaret Maccaglia and members of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sewickley serve meals to homeless and displaced men at North Common Ministries-Pleasant Valley Men's Shelter on the North side on Sunday October 13, 2013. They serve the meals the second Sundays every other month.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Bonnie Batina (left) and members of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sewickley lead a pre-meal prayer before they serve meals to homeless and displaced men at North Common Ministries-Pleasant Valley Men's Shelter on the North side on Sunday October 13, 2013. They serve the meals the second Sundays every other month.

When Bonnie Batina helped to serve meals to homeless menin October, she said she realized the food not only filled their stomachs, but also their hearts.

The Leetsdale woman served desserts to about 25 of the men at Northside Common Ministries' Pleasant Valley Emergency Shelter and was surprised by one man's comment.

“He asked me if he could have two of the pizzelles. He said his mother used to make them for him when he was little. It brought back nice memories for him,” she said.

Batina, her husband, Bob, and about 10 other volunteers from St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Sewickley either make or serve the food — or do both — every two months. Members make monetary donations to buy ingredients.

The shelter, on Brighton Road, opens daily at 4:30 p.m. and provides residents with safe, secure sleeping quarters, a hot shower and an evening meal.

St. Paul's is among about 60 Pittsburgh area churches that make and serve meals to the men.

“Every night of the week, 365 days a year, a church shows up at our doorstep loaded down with pots and pans filled with awesome food,” said Jay Poliziani, ministry director.

“Church groups sign up a year in advance to secure their dates. No man leaves our shelter weighing less than he did when he arrived, thanks to the churches that support our ministry.”

On Dec. 8, St. Paul's will provide two hams and Christmas decorations for the tables. In February, the church's youth group will help make meals and serve the men.

Batina said she and her husband have been helping with the ministry for at least 16 years, on and off. Earlier this year, Bob became head of the social committee, and he and his wife organized the effort for a few months.

When St. Paul's volunteers served the men in October, Batina said she hadn't been to the shelter in awhile and wasn't sure what to expect.

“All the men were very polite,” she said.

“They helped carry all the food in, and we said a prayer before they ate. And they do the cleanup afterward.”

She said helping “just makes me feel good inside.”

Poliziani said other churches that want to become involved need only call or email.

“We are always looking for congregations to do collections of much-needed items or to serve an afternoon lunch to the street homeless who come to our facility during the day,” he said.

Poliziani said recent federal funding cuts led to a 10 percent drop in money available for the ministry to operate.

“Finding ways to replace these and other funds is an ongoing struggle,” he said.

In addition to providing the men food and shelter, the staff assists them as they work toward stability and independence by providing services and support such as clothing, referrals to counseling, a weekly medical clinic and spiritual nurturing.

Among its other services, Northside Common Ministries runs a food pantry and has a permanent housing program to address long-term needs of men who are homeless and have disabilities. They are housed in apartments throughout the North Side and other Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

Poliziani encouraged people to help by becoming a sustaining financial partner through a monthly contribution.

Details are on the ministry's website.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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