How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Emilio Papa: One of kind

On July 10, Emilio Papa passed on. Based on my standards of propriety, decency and morality Emilio was one of the most decent gracious, humble, and compassionate person I have ever known. He was absolutely one of a kind.

At his funeral held on July 14 at Incarnation Church in Ewing, Father Santhosh George Kozhippadan, O.SS.T. in a very moving personal eulogy, described Emilio as "a saint to many," "an example of how we should live and act," a person who made "works of mercy the foundation of his life."
irwin-stoolmacher.jpg.jpgIrwin S. Stoolmacher Irwin S. Stoolmacher | Times of Trenton guest columnist

For more than 35 years, Emilio volunteered at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK). For more than 20 of those years, Emilio logged thousands of miles, making the rounds of area groceries and bakeries picking up leftovers from the prior night and delivering them to TASK.

In 1972 the Jefferson Award was created by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Robert Taft, Jr. and Sam Beard to recognize those nationwide for exemplary community and public service. It is America's most prestigious volunteer recognition award. In 2003, Emilio was one of The Times' Jefferson Award Recipients.

Emilio was TASK's "Volunteer of the Year" in 1999 and on Jan. 16, 2013, TASK named its Dining Room in his honor. During the ceremony attended by more than 400, Dennis Micai TASK Executive Director said, "We cannot think of a more appropriate name for our dining room. Emilio is such a warm and loving person, we hope that the atmosphere in our dining room will always exhibit those attributes as well."

At the time of the Jefferson award, Emilio was retired after a 34-year career at the U.S. Naval Air Propulsion Test Center in Ewing. He was working seven days of the week as a volunteer at the TASK, Loaves and Fishes, Incarnation Church and American Legion Post 93. When asked why he was a full-time volunteer, Emilo's only answer was a simple self-effacing "it makes me feel good when I help others."

Emilio was a humble person devoid of rancor. His concern for the least among us was unparalleled. You could see that in Emilio's interactions with TASK's patrons. It didn't matter whether the patron was living on the street, grappling with an addiction problem, physically challenged or mentally ill. Emilio treated each of TASK's patrons with dignity and respect. You could see in his eyes and in his voice how much he cared about them. He truly loved TASK patrons and they loved him in return.

Emilio had a unique ability to transcend barriers and see people as people no matter what their station in life. He could see the good and grace in all of us. His demeanor and humility were holy. He possessed many of the deeper "eulogy virtues" that David Brooks in his compelling new book, The Road to Character, challenges us to focus on.

TASK opens each board of trustees meeting not with a prayer, but rather with a reading of its Mission statement - or purpose for existence: to feed the hungry of the Trenton Area, encourage self-sufficiency and improve the quality of life of its patrons.

For many years Emilio would read the Mission Statement at the start of TASK's monthly board meeting. He read it each time with diligence, compassion and reverence. You could hear a pin drop at TASK's board meeting as Emilio read – it was invariably as quiet as it would be when a priest spoke at requiem Mass. It was that quiet out of respect and deference to Emilio and in recognition of his dedicated to TASK. In his later years, Emilio would speak quite infrequently at board meetings. When he did speak his fellow board members listened. Emilio would invariably speak about TASK's clients and how a particular action would affect them. He was the voice of TASK's clients on the Board.

It is said that there are three ways to mourn: (1) to cry, and we all no doubt do that today, (2) to silently contemplate the deceased and their many virtues and attributes and (3) to cherish, honor and pay tribute to the life of the deceased by trying to make our lives a little more like them.

I can't think of a person that I've come into contact in my life who would be a better model to emulate than Emilio Papa.

Emilio, born in Naples, Italy and reared on the streets of Chambersburg, was the ultimate "mensch" – a Yiddish word, which Leo Rosten, the author of The Joy of Yiddish defined as "someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character."

Father Kozhlppadan said that "God gave Emilio to us as an example." There is no question that the world be a far better place if each of us would be just a little more like Emilio. His memory is a true blessing and his legacy will help to sustain us all. He taught us all that a little kindness can mean a great deal to those in our society who need our help. We should all do our best to try and emulate his kind, noble, selfless character.