SCHENECTADY Outside Holy Name of Jesus National Catholic Church late Sunday morning, the wind whipped snow across slushy streets and stung the bare skin of those out braving the elements.
But inside, it was a whole different world. It was warm, music played, a Christmas tree twinkled from the small stage in the fellowship hall, and the air was filled with the smell of simmering chicken-vegetable soup.
Victoria Konicki, 11, stood at the stove in the church’s small kitchen, diligently stirring a five-gallon pot of soup with a long wooden spoon.
“I chopped the little onion thingies and helped pour it into the pot,” she said proudly, as she stirred.
Soup on Sunday
The next Soup on Sunday lunch will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Jan. 27. The event is free and all are welcome.
The meal will be offered the last Sunday of every month.
Those wishing to donate to the effort can send financial contributions to: Holy Name of Jesus National Catholic Church, 1040 Pearl St., Schenectady, NY 12303.
Victoria was part of a small crew that cooked and organized the Soup on Sunday lunch, in hopes that it would offer comfort to anyone who was cold and hungry on the blustery day.
The small congregation plans to offer a similar free meal on the last Sunday of every month to come.
“We call ourselves the small church on a small street, with a big and welcoming heart,” said Deacon Jim Konicki, who was on hand to help with the meal.
Church member Bob Dominy, who has been making chicken soup for 34 years, served as head chef Sunday.
If Soup on Sunday catches on, he said he wouldn’t mind cooking twice a month for the community.
The church’s professional-grade Garland range has 10 burners, so there’s lots of room for more soup pots, if need be.
Dominy started prepping the chicken-vegetable soup at 8:30 Sunday morning, so it would have plenty of time to simmer before it was served.
“The longer it cooks, the better it tastes,” he said.
Into the soup went chicken, peas, green beans, chunks of zucchini, scallions, celery, carrots and corn. On the side were pots of rice and orzo noodles, which were added to order.
Dominy’s wife, Stephanie, arranged cold cuts on a tray, in anticipation of making ham, turkey and bologna sandwiches to serve with the soup.
The meal was made possible in part thanks to donations from the Golub Foundation and Hannaford.
As volunteers waited for hungry people to arrive, their friendly chatter filled the dining space, where seven tables covered in cheery red and green plastic cloths stood at the ready.
The smell of the soup drifted everywhere, even upstairs to the bright sanctuary, where poinsettias and Christmas trees shining with white lights were set up to celebrate the arrival of the Christ child.
Sunday’s service was devoted to celebrating the humble shepherd, noted Konicki.
“Our prayer for this, at the end of our service, is to God: ‘We thank you that the poor, the humble and the forgotten in the world are remembered by you,’ ” he said. “We reach out to those who have that hunger, whether it’s a hunger out of poverty or a hunger out of loneliness, whatever their hunger is, that they can find that answer here.”
Back downstairs, the first hungry patron, Raymond Tryniszewski, 86, of Glenville, came in from the cold.
Konicki greeted him with a handshake.
“Take a load off, get warm, have a bowl of soup,” he invited.
His soup steaming in front of him, Tryniszewski recalled growing up in the Mont Pleasant section of Schenectady.
“I have beautiful memories from this neighborhood,” he reminisced. “It was a mixed neighborhood, with Polish, Italians, and we had everything on Crane Street here. You could shop on Crane Street, buy anything. It was a good neighborhood to live in — friendly. Everything was beautiful.”
He lamented the changes that have occurred in the neighborhood and beyond over the years.
“The whole world is spoiled,” he said sadly, his eyes on his soup. “We don’t help each other. That’s the problem with the people. People do not stay together to help each other. They’re always fighting each other. That’s our biggest problem.”
He agreed that the warm bowl of soup, offered to him on a cold winter day, was a step toward making things right.
Patrons were slow to arrive for Soup on Sunday, but organizers weren’t fazed by that.
“It’s just the start of something new,” said Stephanie Dominy. “A start of a new beginning for people in the neighborhood, to give them someplace to go — just love and joy. And we give them our hearts.”