Street ministry delivering love…and pizza

By Peter Cameron

The images have evoked tears.

Whenever it goes on a mission, the Dunmore-based Catholic street ministry called Divine Mercy for Youth: Operation Mercy Relief tows its shiny red trailer adorned on each side with large, bright paintings of Jesus Christ, his mother, Mary, and a sainted nun.

It can have a powerful impact on people living through tough times.

“They’re all looking for a sign,” said Mike Buosante, one of the ministry’s board members. “They’re driving throughout the whole day. And when they see this, they see a sign.

“There’s no better sign than that.”

Launched in 2012 and adding the trailer in August, Divine Mercy For Youth — Operation Mercy Relief seeks out children who feel “unloved, unwanted and forgotten,” said Jerry Bauman, the founder and director of the night ministry.

The group distributes such things as hot chocolate and pizza from Mr. Buosante’s Shavertown restaurant and Dino’s Italian Bistro, and hygiene products to the in-need kids. After building a relationship, the men of the ministry will distribute prayer cards and icons to the youth to “cultivate prayer life,” Mr. Bauman said. Then they can start pointing the kids in the direction of church.

“That’s all we’re able to do,” said Mr. Bauman, of Dunmore.

He hauls the trailer to shelters, free clinics and low-income housing projects like Skyview Park Apartments in Scranton and Sherman Hills Apartments in Wilkes-Barre, and plans to start making more regular trips across Lackawanna and Luzerne counties to fulfill the ministry’s mission.

“To bring the message on the road,” Mr. Buosante said. “It’s hard to get people to come to church. We’re trying to bring the message, the good news, to the street.”

The men of the ministry do this work as volunteers, taking no salary and in fact dumping their own money into the mission. Mr. Bauman has an old high school friend at Integrity Trailers in Carbondale who agreed to build the ministry’s mobile unit at a discount. Drawing from his own skills as a house painter and handyman, Mr. Bauman did much of the electrical work himself. It took two years to complete, as the men of the ministry pooled together funds to raise the necessary $7,500.

The completed trailer is equipped with outlets, a fridge and a propane-powered pizza oven.

Earlier this month, the ministry stopped by the Skyview Park Apartments after school and handed out pizza and drinks to a group of about 30 kids, who were participating in a book club organized by United Neighborhood Centers. Mr. Buosante, Mr. Bauman and his three godchildren, Michael, 10, Makaylee, 9, and Kristian Leiby, 4, fed the kids. But they held off on preaching or distributing any material.

This was just the beginning. At first, the painted images on their trailer speak for them, carrying their message wherever they go.

“The trailer is doing the job for us, in a lot of ways,” Mr. Bauman said.