Photo: Ed and Bev Corcoran, of Batavia, relax in their home, where he is recuperating from surgery. After running Stephen’s Table at the Assembly of God on North Spruce Street for 26 years, health issues have forced the couple to shut the soup kitchen down. Photo by Virginia Kropf.
Ed Corcoran is the first to admit he isn’t a chef, and when he stepped up to run Stephen’s Table at Batavia Assembly of God Church, he didn’t know how to boil water.
Twenty-six years and more than 250,000 meals later, Ed, 75, and his wife Bev, 72, have been forced to close the soup kitchen, after he suffered a fall in May and required brain surgery.
Stephen’s Table was an idea of a late member of the Batavia Assembly of God Church, who asked Ed to help him. After meeting with attorneys to complete the required paperwork and discovering he wouldn’t be paid to run the soup kitchen, the other man backed out and Ed was left “holding the bag.”
With Bev’s help and plenty of donations from the community, Ed started making soup.
“Soup and sandwich was the thing people wanted most,” Bev said. “And we served a beverage and dessert. A lot of people came because they liked to joke with Ed.”
Ed developed a camaraderie with those he served, feeding not only their stomachs but their souls. Joking back and forth was as much a part of lunch as the soup.
The soup kitchen was a haven for the homeless. Some would come in the morning just to get out of the cold, and sit and have coffee and donuts while Ed cooked.
“At one time Batavia had 45 homeless, and we saw most of them,” Ed said. “It’s heartbreaking to think we had to close the kitchen.”
Stephen’s Table was open for lunch Monday through Friday and most days attendance averaged between 20 and 30. Once, they served 90, Bev said.
“We always had enough food,” Bev said. “God always provided.”
The Corcorans praised the community who supported them with donations of food – local churches, BJs, Walmart, Tops, Pizza Hut and bread stores. Then there were farmers and just people in general who brought in fresh fruits and vegetables.
In the beginning, there was just Ed and Bev, but gradually more people started volunteering to help. In the summer, a lot of youth would come to help. Genesee Justice sent people who had to do community service; GCASA sent their people; for years individuals from the ARC were sent to help.
For the past 17 years, Stephen’s Table has partnered with the Genesee County Office for the Aging’s RSVP program.
“Ed and Bev’s volunteer service this past year alone was more than 1,800 hours,” said Courtney Iberi from the OFA. “Since partnering with RSVP, Ed has volunteered more than 23,000 hours and Bev almost 9,000 hours.”
One of the RSVP volunteers was Tim Tracz, who started helping at Stephen’s Table after he retired from Corrections a year and a half ago.
“I always enjoyed working with the elderly and became a driver for Meals on Wheels,” Tracz said. “When I still had a little more time to give, I asked Courtney what I could do and she told me about Stephen’s Table.”
Tracz said it was amazing to find anyone like the Corcorans who would volunteer for 26 years.
“I saw the dignity with which Ed treated the elderly, the poor, the substance abuser and the mentally ill,” Tracz said. “He and Bev just concentrated on serving the meals, and relationships developed.”
He said this was a story, not only of Ed and Bev, but of the community whose support made it possible and Assembly of God Church which allowed use of the building.
Ed said their agreement with Assembly of God called for rent of $1 per year.
“Basically, we had use of the kitchen for nothing,” Ed said.
Tracz recalled a man named Clarence who used to come to the soup kitchen, not for a meal, but for a place to go. He would come in and just start singing the “good old songs.”
Then there was “Bo.”
“He came more than he needed to because it gave him hope and fulfillment,” Tracz said. “People who came to Stephen’s Table knew they weren’t going to be asked for a donation and nobody was going to preach to them.”
Tracz said volunteering for RSVP at the soup kitchen proved to him, “You certainly get more than you give.”
The Corcorans said no one was ever turned away from Stephen’s Table, as long as they behaved. Only once in 26 years did they have to have two people removed for creating a disturbance.
They will cherish the memories of those they served all those years, such as the homeless man who was so cold he couldn’t carry his bowl of soup. Or the time five teenagers who came in and said they were homeless, having left home because their parents were so into drugs they couldn’t stand it.
The Corcorans are hopeful the poor and homeless will find help at other agencies, such as The Salvation Army.
“I know there is food available to the needy, but not a prepared meal and the companionship,” Bev said. “But with Ed’s health, we couldn’t think of keeping the soup kitchen open.”
Ed and Bev said they always figured they would keep going as long as the volunteers and donations didn’t stop.
“We never thought an injury would stop us,” Bev said.
Editor's Note: Click on the links below for previous coverage about the Corcorans: