St. Vincent de Paul’s kitchen gives out more meals since start of COVID-19 pandemic
Saturday, APRIL 25, 2020
WARREN — Lou Lepro is very much a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, but when COVID-19 struck, he came forward to make sure the St. Vincent de Paul Society dining hall continues to operate.
“I never considered slowing down in what I do and helping out and being at the kitchen table to provide for people,” said Lepro, who said he has been giving back to the community for as long as he can remember.
“I can’t ever imagine not giving back. It’s something very important to both my wife (Kathy) and myself. I think it’s something I can’t imagine not doing.”
Lepro, 72, is a Lordstown native who now lives in Warren and is a member of St. Mary Church. When he retired in 2009 from Severstal Steel after 41 years, he became more involved in volunteer work, such as helping form the Historic Perkins Homestead Neighborhood Association in 2006 and working in its rose garden behind City Hall, and in placing luminaries along Mahoning Avenue to welcome in Christmas Day.
He coordinates and does much of the work in the rose garden, including designing the flower beds, ordering materials, planting and pruning. The garden has existed since 2010.
At Mass one Sunday, the pastor asked for help feeding the hungry.
“I did call,” Lepro said. “Father said, ‘Well, that’s great. You’re in charge of the group.’ So being the first one to call, I learned a lesson — that’s how you end up becoming responsible.”
He said he wasn’t looking to lead, but because he was stuck with it …
“Basically, they were looking for a group of St. Mary’s volunteers to work at the dining hall of St. Vincent de Paul on (2415) Niles Road (SE). So since Father appointed me as the head of that group, I called around and I was able to put together a wonderful group of volunteers, and we, at that time, were responsible for one day a month.”
From there, Lepro took over as president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He is serving his first three-year term.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the dining hall was responsible for cooking hot meals one day per week, averaging about 160 meals. Now Lepro and his team average 225 hot meals to go per day, five days per week.
“These times have put a lot of pressure on families, not only for food items, but for basic everyday living like paying rent, utilities and so forth so we are seeing that stress in the community,” Lepro said.
“Many of the people that we now see are new faces, new families are coming through. Everything is on a drive-thru basis right now where before the COVID came in, people dined inside the facility.”
To comply with social distancing, Lepro and the other volunteers created a drive-thru system in which a car pulls up to the front door, and volunteers pass through a clamshell container of hot food as well as a gallon of milk or loaf of bread if the dining hall has any available.
“I’m just one of many. We have a tremendous group of volunteers that are facing fear on a daily basis but yet have the courage to come in and prepare meals for people who need them,” Lepro said. “I’m not the only one that is stepping up to the plate.”
Lepro doesn’t take credit for any of these efforts. He credits all of the organizations, volunteers and members of the community for their effort in helping those in need.
The Diocese of Youngstown, Catholic Charities, The Salvation Army and Second Harvest Food Bank have been helpful with donations and supplies since the pandemic closed the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. The store was the dining hall’s main source of income. Lepro also said the community has been wonderful with helping out.
“There are a lot of people in this community that are responsible for what we’re doing on a daily basis and without these other organizations, we’d have a very hard time doing what we do,” Lepro said.
BETH SHILLER, Reporter