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Frances E. Zalewski, 89, longtime volunteer chef at Response to Love Center

April 18, 1929 – April 25, 2018

Frances E. Zalewski, of Cheektowaga, longtime volunteer head chef and meal services coordinator at the Response to Love Center on Buffalo’s East Side, died last Wednesday in Mercy Hospital after suffering a stroke. She was 89.

Born in Buffalo, the former Frances Lewandowski attended St. Stanislaus School and Girls Vocational High School.

She worked for caterers, then started her own catering business in her home, providing food for showers, parties and weddings.

“We all went to St. Adalbert’s and the school,” said her daughter, Patricia A. Jerzewski. “When the school shut down, one of the nuns, Sister Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz, decided to start a food pantry and she asked my mom to come cook in the kitchen. She jumped at the chance. She loved it. She just loved to cook and take care of the people.”

Beginning on the day that the Response to Love Center soup kitchen opened at 130 Kosciuszko St. in 1984 behind St. Adalbert's Basilica, Mrs. Zalewski, known as "Fran," served for more than 25 years, rising at 5 a.m. and, in later years, overcoming the pain of arthritis, to prepare meals for 150 to 270 people daily. She cooked days in advance to prepare for holiday meals. Her husband, Teddy, often assisted her.

"He's the shaker, and I'm the baker," she told The Buffalo News in a 2009 article about the couple's work at the soup kitchen.

“Fran is just an amazing person,” Sister Johnice told The News in 2003. “She comes here so early and prepares a full roast chicken or roast pork dinner for our people. She doesn’t have to do all that, but she does and with such love.”

For most of their marriage, the Zalewskis lived on Lathrop St., near the church. They never owned a car because the neighborhood was their life. It was where they shopped, worshipped and sent their five children to school.

When they moved to Cheektowaga in 1992, they still wanted to volunteer at the soup kitchen so nuns and fellow volunteers chauffeured Mrs. Zalewski from her home and back to the Response to Love Center, sometimes with her husband.

The Zalewskis' volunteer work at the soup kitchen continued even after Mr. Zalewski was mugged on a nearby street. "When Fran came back to work," Sister Johnice recalled, "she said, 'The people who did this were not the people I serve.'"

Mrs. Zalewski was once laid up with severe arthritis but she returned wearing a brace and using a cane to help her navigate from cupboard to refrigerator to stove.

Mrs. Zalewski was honored by the Western New York Division of the Polish American Congress for her volunteer work in 2010.

Her husband of 64 years, a clerk supervisor at Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center, died in 2013.

Survivors also include two sons, Patrick J. and Kenneth J.; another daughter, Susan M. Moscicki; 17 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 1, in Infant of Prague Catholic church, 921 Cleveland Drive, Cheektowaga.

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