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VISTA volunteer joins campus community in support of Dinner for Kids Program
Posted 07/27/2018 11:32AM

The Dinner for Kids program in the Wyoming Valley and Back Mountain will have additional administrative support with the appointment of an AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) volunteer assigned to Misericordia University in support of the program that provides nutritious meals for regional children in need.

Mary O'Leary of Philadelphia began her VISTA service in the Department of Social Work at Misericordia on July 23. She will serve for one year as an administrative assistant to Dinner for Kids, working in collaboration with the Dinners for Kids Board of Directors and under the direction of Susan McDonald, Ph.D., L.S.W., chair of the Department of Social Work, and Carly Ellman, L.C.S.W., assistant professor of sociology in the Department of Social Work.

O'Leary, who earned dual bachelor's degrees in psychology and gender studies at West Chester University in May, was involved in her campus' service-learning office as an undergraduate. She became acquainted with the VISTA program through a VISTA volunteer assigned at her alma mater.

"I definitely developed a love for service and plan to focus my career around the social justice issues of intersectional feminism, anti-racism, and anti-poverty," she said. "I see having access to food as a fundamental human right. You cannot do much without food. As a VISTA volunteer, I am thrilled to be working to help eradicate food insecurity in the region."

David and Edna Tevet, former owners of Ollie's Restaurant in Edwardsville, established the Dinner for Kids Program in 2011, when they realized that more than 10,000 children in Luzerne County faced food insecurity. Initially, the restaurant provided the food and volunteers that delivered six free meals a week to 40 school-aged children in need in the communities of the Wyoming Valley West School District.

The program expanded in 2016 when Misericordia University students in the social work program and Campus Ministry began working with the Dallas School District to deliver meals to children in need in the Back Mountain area. Metz Culinary Management prepares the meals on campus.

Most recently, the Ollie's effort has expanded to include students in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District. The Dinners for Kids Program provides six meals every week for approximately 143 children, delivering more than 43,000 meals annually. The youngsters are most often referred to the program by social workers and educators.

"O'Leary will be working to expand the Dinners for Kids Program and help make it sustainable for years to come," said Ellman. "She will be recruiting volunteers and putting together a volunteer training manual. She will help write grants and fundraise to pay for the meals. Mary also will be involved in a research project to see how the program benefits the children and their families."

Among her first duties will be assisting with the organization's fundraising event: the second annual Ruth's Chris Golf Classic, on Monday, Oct. 8 at the Huntsville Golf Club, Shavertown. Sponsored by Ruth's Chris Steak House, Wilkes-Barre, and its franchisee, Metz Culinary Management, the tournament will begin at 10:30 a.m. with a shotgun start and will conclude with a celebratory reception and awards presentation at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Mohegan Sun Pocono, Plains Twp. The proceeds will benefit the Dinners for Kids program.

The program is in need of volunteers throughout the year to help package food and make deliveries. For more information, please contact O'Leary at


Misericordia University held a swearing-in ceremony to welcome AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Mary O'Leary to campus in support of the Dinners for Kids Program. Participating in the ceremony, first row, from left, are David Rehm, vice president, Academic Affairs, Misericordia University; Mary O'Leary, VISTA volunteer, Misericordia University, and David Tevet, founder, Dinners for Kids; second row, Christine Somers, director, Campus Ministry, Misericordia University; Ina Lubin, board of directors, Dinners for Kids; Lindsay Riddell, community outreach coordinator, Misericordia University, and Carly Ellman, L.C.S.W., assistant professor of sociology, Misericordia University; Elizabeth Ann Duffy, administrative assistant, Misericordia University, and Susan McDonald, Ph.D., L.S.W, chairperson, Department of Social Work, Misericordia University.

Misericordia University Students Walking

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