Frank Russell of St. Elizabeth Church in Rochester and Mary Ann Church of St.

Anthony Church in Bethel (both part of Our Lady of the Valley Parish) have a strong sense of the Gospel call to care for those in need. Russell participates in charitable works of the Knights of Columbus; Church is part of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas projects to help others.

One thing they have in common is their assistance to people in their area who are food insecure; both volunteer at the Bethel Area Food Shelf, a small but effective organization operated out of the basement of The White Church community center basement.

An average of six to 10 households are served on each of the two days a week the food shelf is open; 35 households received food in September.

Volunteering at the food shelf is one way Church and Russell are helping to address food security in Bethel, East Bethel, Gaysville, Stockbridge, Pittsfield and Barnard. “Clients I’ve seen tend to be older” and on fixed incomes or families who are “having a really difficult time,” Russell said.

Single-person households may access food at the food shelf twice a month; families may get assistance there three times a month.

Food is limited by the size of the household and includes items like bread, coffee, canned goods, dairy products, meat and frozen foods. Other helpful items distributed at the food shelf include things like laundry and dish detergent, shampoo, toilet paper and paper towels.

Russell, a retired school administrator, refers to the Gospel of Matthew to explain why he is involved in the food pantry: When I was hungry you gave me to eat. “This is a very easy way to perform a corporal work of mercy,” he said.

Church, a retired home health aide, was invited to volunteer at the pantry, and once she did, “I was hooked,” she said. “I really enjoy it.”

For Russell, being Catholic means more than going to Mass on Sunday and making an offering in his envelope; it means helping others.

“Help others, help Christ,” Church said.

Food and other items are donated by members of the sponsoring churches, local farmers, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Panera. Sprague’s Dairy delivers milk, and some food is purchased with donated funds from the Vermont Food Bank.

“Everybody needs to eat every day to have enough energy,” Church said.

The area churches that supply volunteers for the food pantry are Our Lady of the Valley Parish, Christ Church in Bethel, United Church in South Royalton and Miller Church in Bethel.

The food shelf hours are Mondays noon to 2 p.m. and Wednesdays 4 to 6 p.m.

—Originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.