By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
Joe Briscella’s parents knew what they were doing when they gave him his baptismal name.
Like his great patron saint, Joe is really a behind-the-scenes guy. Think of him as an ordinary man who does extraordinary things.
“I don’t like things to be about myself,” he said. “I’m a background person. I’ll volunteer whenever I can but do it in the background.”
Continuing a family tradition tracing back to his grandparents, at 52, Briscella has lived in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond section and Mother of spanine Grace Parish his entire life.
“That’s where I was baptized and that’s where I went to school and my children went to school,” he said. “My church is a big part of my life.”
He married the former Clare Enright at Incarnation Church 26 years ago, and they are the parents of three boys. “Michael is deceased, Joe is a graduate of North Catholic and Matthew is a Connelly Scholar at Roman Catholic,” he said.
At his parish he’s worked on all the various committees that help keep it going, including those for the Italian festival spaghetti dinners and the finance council. Most recently he’s been active with the committee that raised $75,000 to upgrade the technology programs in the parish school, including new Smart Boards and bringing in a technology teacher. Clare does her bit too; she’s a volunteer aide in the kindergarten class.
In his religious practice he’s a bit on the traditional side; he mourns the fact that his parish no longer rings bells at the consecration of the Mass, but in another way he’s a modernist. “I go to Saturday night Mass,” he confessed. “I like to sleep in on Sunday.”
For most of his working career Briscella has been employed by the Archdiocese. For the last 18 years or so he has been with Nutritional Development Services, the federally funded archdiocesan agency that provides free or reduced price meals to children at schools, child care centers, after school programs and summer camps and also supports charity-funded food programs for the poor in the community.
“The reward is knowing that you are feeding kids a meal before they go home,” Briscella said. “It’s a good place to work.”
His position as assistant purchasing manager is to try to obtain the very best food for distribution at the very best price. If it’s a new product, he’s apt to run a tasting session at the office; if the staff doesn’t like it, the kids probably won’t like it either.
The truth of the matter is, his purchasing instincts are good, and products very rarely fail the office taste test. He’s also good at persuading his sources to go that extra mile. For example, pumpkin pie is not generally part of school lunches, but thanks to Briscella’s persuasive powers, it was on the menu this holiday season.
Like many of the NDS staff, he’s there for the long haul. Financially, “I probably could do better if I went somewhere else,” he said, “but it wouldn’t be the same. The commitment wouldn’t be there.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.