PLATTSBURGH - Helping the less fortunate is something near and dear to Frank F. Pabst's heart.
"When I was a kid, I was on the bum. I ate in soup kitchens, in hobo camps and any place I could grub up food," said Pabst.
That kind of life wasn't easy, Pabst said. He recalled being thrown off a freight train once in Chicago and going to work for a diner across from the stockyard. It helped him to get warm meals and put a little change in his pocket - literally.
"I got 50 cents a night and left over food and I could sleep in the back room," said Pabst. "It gave me a good appreciation for what some people go through.
These days, Pabst is on the other side of the equation, serving as the community meal coordinator for Trinity Episcopal Church in Plattsburgh. Having experienced hard times himself, Pabst said it's what led him to take on the position nearly five years ago.
"It gives me the chance to pay that back a little bit," Pabst said, referring to the help he received. "At least in my own mind."
Pabst got involved with the church's weekly offering when asked by the church's previous pastor, the Rev. John Sorenson, who established the program 20 years ago. Pabst put the experience he gained over the years - including owning his own restaurant at one point - to good use.
Working in a state-of-the-art kitchen, which he credits to Sorenson establishing while head of the church, Pabst said it warms his heart to bring warm meals to those who need them. During the traditionally colder months, from January through the end of March, the church expands on its weekly Wednesday offering to include a second weekly meal on Saturdays. Working in symbiosis with St. Peter's Church - which offers a soup kitchen Monday nights at Seton Academy - Pabst said it helps ensure stomachs don't stay empty for long.
"We're doing a double-header during the cold months, so, from a nutritional standpoint, it helps keep everyone at balance," said Pabst. "If you can get three hot meals a week, you can survive."
The saddest thing, said Pabst, is the need in the community has only increased in recent years.
"We used to calculate on serving 25 to 30 people and during the peak of the economic downturn, which was last August to December, we saw our numbers go up to 70, 80, 90," he said. "It's back down now to 50-60 people, but it's still a lot more than we used to do."
Such an increase in demand ultimately meant a need for more volunteers. Luckily, said Pabst, his request didn't fall on deaf ears.
"I used to have to do Saturdays all alone," said Pabst, "but I put out a call for help and groups such as the Adirondack Young Professionals, Adirondack Regional Federal Credit Union, and the Plattsburgh Noon Kiwanis, have responded. It's just such a blessing."
Knowing the need is there is what got the Plattsburgh Noon Kiwanis Club involved nearly two years ago, said Charlene Wolf, the club's treasurer.
"We're always trying to find where we can impact the most people with what we have," said Wolf. "I feel that this is something that's a small effort for the reward that you get from it."
The Kiwanians, like some other volunteers, buy, cook and serve the food. When you pair that support with donations from Chartwells, Butcher Block and Price Chopper - to name only a few - with additional volunteer support from school groups and other civic-minded people, it's what keeps the community meal going, said Pabst.
"[The community meal] has just grown and worked with the support of the congregation and many people in town who have contributed to it," he said. "They see the need and they respond to it. And, it's a wonderful thing that they do."
The church's community meal is offered year-round Wednesday evenings at 5 p.m. and Saturdays until the end of March, also at 5 p.m.
For more information about the community meal, contact Pabst at 561-5771. The listing of similar sites and other outreach services is available from the Department of Social Services at 565-3300.