Since 2011, Soup Kitchen volunteer Anthony Santiago has become a familiar face to our clients, welcoming each person with a kind word and a bright smile.
"I had surgery and couldn't work," Anthony recalls when asked how he came to The Salvation Army. "I was frustrated and lonely, looking for something to do. I didn't know what I was going to do but I knew I could do something. One day I was talking to Cookie (Canale, longtime Salvationist) about my need to get out of the house. She suggested volunteering at The Salvation Army," he remembers smiling. "I came here and never left."
Full time father to 9 year old Anthony Andres, Anthony still finds the time to volunteer 20+ hours per week. Because of his dedication, Anthony has become Volunteer Assistant to Stephanie Lesh, Soup Kitchen Coordinator and she relies heavily on Anthony to help her do her job.
"He cooks, cleans, delegates, whatever needs to get done," says Stephanie. "He covers for me when I can't be here."
"Without him, I would be lost," says Stephanie Lesh. "He's a great guy. Without Anthony, I couldn’t do my job. He just knows what needs to be done and he does it."
Jill Brink, Food Pantry Director concurs. "Anthony is very dedicated to The Salvation Army and our mission. He is a big help to Stephanie and we're lucky to have him," she says. "And" she says smiling, "our clients really like him."
"Anthony is a good person. He makes me feel welcome and comfortable," says Raphael, who has been a soup kitchen client for the past year. "Everyone always comes in and says hi to Anthony."
Todd, a Salvation Army client since 1999 appreciates seeing the same face every day. "People move away and things happen so it's great to consistently see Anthony for the past several years," he says. "Plus," he adds with a grin, "Anthony is one of my favorite people to talk sports with."
It's not just adults that like Anthony either. Ruby, long time soup kitchen client, often brings her 2.5 and 3.5 year old grandchildren with her. "He helps me entertain my grandchildren," Ruby says. "He smiles and jokes around with them. They have a great time with him."
"Anthony is a really good cook too," Ruby goes on. "People are always asking him for recipes. He makes something out of nothing and it stretches to feed so many people. He really cares about making people happy."
The Salvation Army works tirelessly to feed the hungry throughout Monroe County. In 2014, almost 60,000 hot meals were served out of The Salvation Army Soup Kitchen. In 2015, we've added a year round breakfast program so those numbers are sure to increase significantly. Volunteers like Anthony play a critical part in our commitment to be "Doing The Most Good" in Monroe County.
When asked what keeps him coming back to The Salvation Army, Anthony quickly says, "The people. It's all about giving back and making people happy."
"I'll be here forever. Or as long as Stephanie lets me keep coming," he jokes.
"I'll chain you to my desk," Stephanie replied. "You better keep coming," she teases back.