Meet Emmaus Volunteers and Donors

Nick Pongratz continues to give back

Nick Pongratz continues to give back

Nick Pongratz, 23, began volunteering at Emmaus Soup Kitchen when he was a McDowell High School student.

His parents, Kathleen and Jeff Pongratz, were already helping out at the soup kitchen, 218 E. 11th Street, which, like their parish, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, is on Erie’s east side.

Nick needed community service hours for school, so his mother asked if he would be interested in working at the soup kitchen once a month.

Nick enjoyed his volunteer service so much that seven years later, he’s still at the soup kitchen on the last...

Hank and Betty Graygo promise to keep paying it forward

Betty and Hank Graygo

After Jill Graygo’s wedding reception last October, her parents, Hank and Betty Graygo, were helping the newlyweds to clean up when Jill asked them a question.

“Do you still give to the soup kitchen?” Jill asked. “Yes,” her parents replied. That’s when Jill suggested that food left over from the wedding – in sealed containers, still in the refrigerator or the freezer – be donated to Emmaus Soup Kitchen.

Jill’s suggestion sparked an additional idea from Betty. Why not donate the Mason jars filled with beautiful bouquets from Wegmans to the soup...

Occupational therapy students share their talents

Mary Carroll, Gannon University occupational therapy student

by Liz Allen
Children at Sister Gus’ Kids Cafe stretched their limbs and college students expanded their horizons recently, thanks to three Gannon University students who gave their time to introduce the kids to yoga.

“We’re always looking for different things for the children to do and be exposed to,” says Stephanie Grear, director of the Kids Cafe. So she was intrigued when Mary Carroll and two classmates asked if they could involve the children in their senior research project on sensory integration, which Mary describes ...

Gannon students share time, gain insights

Kyle Hartl and friends at Sister Gus' Kids Cafe

by Liz Allen
A TV crime drama inspired Kyle Hartl to think about becoming an attorney. Now his real-life experience as a volunteer has prompted him to consider how he might use the law to improve children’s lives.

Kyle, 21, is a legal studies senior at Gannon University. “I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer,” he says. “I used to watch ‘Law & Order’ every day.”

For Dr. Timothy Caswell’s leadership class, Kyle was required to perform 30 hours of service. Sister Gus’ Kids Cafe was Kyle’s final placement...

Patty Shea makes move from teacher to cook

Patty Shea enjoys breakfast at Avantis Restaurant in Erie. She and her siblings meet there once a week, just doors away from where her in-laws, Harry and Joan Shea, operated Frontier Bakery.

by Liz Allen
Patty Shea married into a well-known family of bakers, but her forte has been in the classroom, not the kitchen.

Nevertheless, since retiring from teaching in 2011, Patty has found her niche as a volunteer cook at Sister Gus’ Kids Cafe.

The after-school program, located on the ground floor of The Studio at St. Mary’s, at 310 E. 10th St. in Erie, is a few blocks from Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary, where Patty taught fifth-grade special education for 31 of her 37 years in the Erie School District....

Betty Grafius and Kathy Derda serve up kindness by the dozens

Betty Grafius and Kathy Derda, Emmaus home-baked cookie donors

by Liz Allen
In their golden years, sisters Betty Grafius (left) and Kathy Derda have become shining examples of how to contribute to Emmaus Ministries by tapping into special talents that include long-term commitment, organizational skills and unflagging enthusiasm.

Since December 2006, the two women have led an effort to donate homemade cookies to Emmaus Soup Kitchen every month.

“I have the best bakers in town, and we have never missed in 10 years,” says...

Meet Joanne Cahill

Joanne Cahill, Emmaus Ministries volunteer

Joanne Cahill is spending six months at Mount Saint Benedict Monastery enrolled in a special program for women who want to temporarily immerse themselves in monastic life. As part of the Benedicta Riepp Program she volunteers once a week at the Emmaus Food Pantry. She wrote this reflection about one of her experiences:

At the end of the food panty line, I preside over an assortment of donated breads. A woman approaches. Two children trailing behind her brandishing new stickers from a Pantry volunteer.

“Good morning,” I say...

Meet Joe and Sherrie Cermak

Say you decide to buy some new kitchen furniture. That means you usually purchase four chairs and a table. But when Joe and Sherrie Cermak go shopping for the kitchen, they order 120 chairs and 20 tables, with a brand new commercial oven thrown in.

For the past three years Joe and Sherrie have made donations to Emmaus to help replace or upgrade needed “kitchen furniture” at the Soup Kitchen. It all started with a 20-year-old stove that wasn’t working on an evening when Joe was helping to serve the evening meal.

Heart for the Poor

Rob Celeski

As chair of the Employee’s Community Services Fund of General Electric (GE), Rob Celeski has coordinated contributions to many social service agencies in Erie, including Emmaus. Last winter Rob extended his outreach to the poor by volunteering at almost all of Erie’s mobile overflow shelters—overnight sites for the homeless that moved from church to church from November to March.

How did you get interested in helping people who are poor and homeless?

Read about Emmaus Food Pantry co-coordinators, Sisters Claire Marie and Lucia Surmik's experience at the Peoples Climate March in September.


We boarded the train for New York City with two signs carefully tucked in our suitcases. One read Climate Change Now”, and on the back of it in bold print was written, Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA. The other was a large sized, laminated print of the schedule of the activities that were taking place in Erie in solidarity with the New York march. These two signs were the reasons we went—we wanted to represent our Benedictine Sisters and the people of Erie and show our unity with people around the world who are concerned about the welfare of the earth now and for future generations.


There are so many because we attended many workshops and services before and after the march itself. For example, on the evening before the March, we were invited to a gathering of the Moms Clean Air Force. This Women’s organization has spread to over 20 states.