Gina Ricciardi (B'85, Parent'17) President, Franciscan Charities, Inc.

As an undergraduate student at Georgetown, Gina Ricciardi planned to enter the world of finance for her career. She studied business, and then went on to work in the Corporate Intern Program at Merill Lynch for more than five years. At the time—the late 1980s—she was the only female on the Merrill Lynch Options Trading Desk. Because of that, she was compelled to work extra hard to become successful in a notoriously cutthroat environment.

She eventually left her position, deciding to work for one of her then-clients, but couldn't escape a feeling of wanting to do more for others.

Volunteering much-needed skills

With more free time on her hands, Ricciardi began to look for ways that she could lend her time and experience to her own community. She spent some time working with the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA) as a rape crisis counselor, speaker and then New Jersey board president. While there, she was proud to help pass Megan's Law, legislation that requires local law enforcement authorities to make information regarding registered sex offenders publically available.

An unexpected call

Some time later, she received an unexpected invitation to return to helping the community. Paul Miller, Franciscan Brother and long time friend of Ricciardi and her husband, Michael Ricciardi (C'78, Parent'17) called to enlist their help. He had been to speak at a local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the basement of an abandoned Catholic church in Newark, and found the people there desperate for help.

Miller's plan was to petition the Diocese to re-open the parish and start a soup kitchen for the community members he found in need of both spiritual and physical aid.

Ricciardi went on to enlist the first 40 volunteers for the new mission from her own parish, beginning the work of Franciscan Charities in Newark.

They found donors to put in a full-scale kitchen, and now employ a professional chef who oversees the service of more than 300 people per day. The chef and director are Franciscan Charities' only two permanent employees; more than 300 volunteers handle the additional work.

Video courtesy of Eidolon Films.

 

Below are a few of the many alumni who have supported Franciscan Charities’ efforts.

Board Members

  • Gail G. MacKinnon (B'85), former trustee
  • Gina Ricciardi (B'85, Parent'17), board president
  • Mary Lee Trousdale (L'86, Parent'12, '18), current trustee & treasurer, entire family volunteers time as well

Volunteers and Donors

  • Frank D'Ambrsosio (B'77, Parent'17) – Donor
  • Tom Bianco (B'77) – Donor
  • Arthur B. (C'54, Parent'84, '85, '93) & Nancy S. (Parent'84, '85, '93) Calcagnini – Donors
  • Arthur (C'85) & Nina Calcagnini III – Volunteers, donors and NYC event coordinators
  • Carol Chartouni (I'82) – Volunteer and donor
  • Rashawn Davis (C'14) – Recently ran for West Ward Councilman, kitchen volunteer and speaker
  • James Dworkin (B'85) & Lisa Fraites Dworkin (I'85) – Literacy volunteers and donors
  • Edward T. Finneran III (B'77, Parent'09) – Donor
  • Libby & Terry (C'79) Fitzgerald – Donors and owners, Greyledge Farm, Durham, Connecticut
  • Leah Kronthal (Parent'12) – Team captain and donor
  • Tessa Moran (C'06) & Ben Crosbie (C'06) – Videographers, Eidolon Films
  • Dr. Leon Smith Sr. (M'56, Parent'81, '83, '85, '90, '94) – Volunteer, pro bono medical care provider
  • George Tenet (C'75) – Volunteer, fundraiser
  • Michael (C'75) & Patti (NHS'75, Parent'07, '08, '10) Nugent Jr. – Donors
  • Andrew Osofsky (B'09) – Donor

Expansion

Franciscan Charities will mark its 10-year anniversary in September, and is the largest full-service kitchen in Newark, serving more than 120,000 meals each year. Such a long run has only been possible for Ricciardi and her organization through hard work. "We didn't listen to anyone and just kept going," she said.

Since the opening of the soup kitchen, the organization has added several additional initiatives for the community:

  • A food pantry where approved persons can come and receive bags of groceries monthly
  • Free legal services offered by local prosecutors
  • A work program offering on-the-job training to convicted felons and other unemployed persons
  • A year-round children's literacy program and daily summer camp, where local high school students help create the curriculum

Enlisting Support

Over the past 10 years, the support Franciscan Charities received from Georgetown alumni has been overwhelming.

"I really think Georgetown people want to help Georgetown people. Some alumni have given money, food and other goods, while others have given their time," said Ricciardi. "We couldn't have done it without them."