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St. Bonaventure University

For guests and volunteers, #Bona’s Warming House nourishes body and soul

Nov 25, 2019

By Susan Anderson

For Paul Nana Afful, a lifetime of generous acts has paved the way to a passion for helping others.

“My whole life has been filled with people I’ve never even met helping me out. Now I want to do the same,” Afful said.

Born and raised in the large port city of Takoradi in the western region of Ghana, Afful arrived in the United States through the help of others. A soccer scholarship brought him to St. Bonaventure University, where a host family welcomed him into their home. He earned an undergraduate degree in sport studies and is currently enrolled in the MBA program.

Six days a week Afful can be found at the Warming House, the university’s student-run soup kitchen in Olean, where he serves as manager. He plans and prepares meals, plus buys groceries and supplies.

Afful said he creates dinner for about 30 people each day, making enough so that there are leftovers for the guests to take home. He also makes certain to visit with all who gather together to eat.

“We welcome our guests each and every time and ask how they are doing,” Afful said. “We want everyone to feel at home.”

While demanding, the work is also fulfilling. 

“My life is an example of what can happen when you show kindness to others,” he said. “I really love helping here. It feels good to cook for others and help by putting food on the table.” 

Bona professor of theology Dr. Christopher Stanley and his wife, Laurel, have volunteered frequently on Sundays at the Warming House for the past 20 years.

For Stanley, who enjoys cooking and regularly prepares dinner at home, his time at the Warming House is more than community service. 

“We’ve always found it deeply rewarding,” Stanley said. “It's amazing how the mundane task of preparing a meal becomes a sacred act when one does it for those whom Jesus called ‘the least of these.’ We count it a privilege to be able to serve there.”

Founded in 1974, the Warming House provides an early evening meal six days a week, serving between 5,500 to 6,000 meals annually. It is managed by a small staff of paid student interns and a volunteer pool of students, faculty, staff and community members.

Many of the guests experience challenges beyond just hunger, which is why the site offers health screenings, various forms of counseling, and organic foods to take out. 

“The community and fellowship shared at the Warming House is vital,” said Alice Miller Nation, director of St. Bonaventure’s Franciscan Center for Social Concern (FCSC). “It is an important refuge for our guests, many of whom have nowhere else to turn for a hot meal. And a number of our student volunteers discover a real passion for social work and service.”

To help raise money and awareness for the program, the FCSC will host #GivingTuesdayatBonas, a one-day fundraising event on Dec. 3.

“Our goal is to raise $40,000 for our social justice, advocacy and service programs such as the Warming House,” said Miller Nation.

She encouraged the community to visit to learn more and to make a donation.

For Afful, being part of the Warming House has taught him more than just how to cook for a large number of people — he’s learned the power of compassion and the rewards that come through patience.

“The best feeling you can ever get is when you show kindness to others,” he said.


About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University is a community committed to transforming the lives of our students inside and outside the classroom, inspiring in them a lifelong commitment to service and citizenship. In 2019, St. Bonaventure was named the #1 regional university value in New York and #2 in the North by U.S. News and World Report.