Emmaus Ministries Says Goodbye to Shirley Whaley
Catherine and Shirley

This interview is a continuation of a story in our most recent newsletter. To read the entire September newsletter, click on the image on the left side bar.

After over twelve years working at Emmaus Soup Kitchen, Shirley Whaley retired in August. Faithful and committed, Shirley cooked daily meals, coordinated schedules for others to come and prepare dinners, worked with countless volunteers, and above all, was a steadfast presence for soup kitchen guests. Sister Valerie, an Emmaus staff member, sat down with Shirley to ask her about her time working for Emmaus.

How did you begin working at Emmaus Soup Kitchen?
Shirley: I was working at the House of Healing, a transitional program for women coming out of incarceration, and that closed in spring 2011. Sister Mary called me between Thanksgiving and Christmas that year and said that she was looking for someone to come cook at the soup kitchen. I told her: “The job sounds perfect for me. I’ll take it.”

Who taught you how to cook?
I went to Reddy Kilowatt Cooking School when I was first grade. It was held at a hardware store at Warren County. I have been cooking from the time I was five years old. When I belonged to the fire department in Youngsville, PA, I worked for functions held there. The woman in charge had a massive heart attack and called to tell me I was in charge! Her husband brought all the recipe books to me, and so I taught myself to cook in large quantities.

In your opinion, what makes Emmaus unique?
Emmaus not only serves the poor, but its guests have a place that many call their home or their church. The guests feel like the staff and volunteers care about them.

Do you have a favorite recipe that you prepared at the soup kitchen?
There wasn’t one favorite, but I always liked to make soup and casseroles. I can add lots of different ingredients, and then I don’t waste food.

What has been the most meaningful part of this work?
I have always enjoyed giving back to my community, and I have always felt like the work I have done with the Benedictine Sisters has fulfilled that.

Can you tell me about a guest who holds a special place for you?
There was a man named Art, and he lived over on 10th Street. He used to come to the soup kitchen every day, no matter the weather: rain, sleet, snow, hail, sunshine. But, it would take him over an hour to walk a block and a half over here. One winter I couldn’t stand leaving here seeing him walking home, so I would give him a ride. We became friends.

What was the most challenging part of your role?
It requires a lot of coordination because of the number of volunteers that it takes to operate the soup kitchen, but at the same time, that is one of my favorite parts: getting to know and work with all the volunteers.

Do you have any plans for your retirement?
I look forward to being able to help out at home with my great grandsons and help my parents relocate from Florida to Pennsylvania. I will also enjoy reading and gardening.

Photo caption: Catherine Simon, Emmaus Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen Coordinator, with Shirley Whaley, retiring Soup Kitchen Coordinator and cook