“This is one of the most important ministries the Catholic Church can do,” Joni Charbonneau said of feeding the hungry.

She is director of HIS Pantry at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington, a longtime parish ministry that has grown since it opened in 1993 to be the biggest ministry in the parish and the second largest food pantry in Bennington County.

“This is a class act,” Holy Cross Father Bob Wiseman, pastor, said. “It is a wonderful ministry.”

There are 35 active volunteers (others are on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic) who serve about 200 households (600 people) each month. The pantry is open on Wednesday afternoons and Friday mornings year round.

The shelves in the downstairs pantry in the parish hall are well stocked with all kinds of non-perishable foods like canned fruits and vegetables, rice, pasta, soup, beans, cereal and macaroni and cheese. And when available, guests can also get meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, butter and other dairy items.

Toiletries including toilet paper, soap and hand sanitizer are distributed as well as such things as shampoo and deodorant, as available. Limited clothing also is available.

Donations to the food pantry come from the Vermont Foodbank; a network of partners including Price Chopper, Aldis and Cumberland Farms; parishioners and community members.

Monetary donations are used to buy items as needed.

“We don’t turn anybody away. … It’s amazing how much need there is in the community,” Charbonneau said. “This is an important ministry, especially in the Year of St. Joseph, to help feed the poor.”

During the pandemic, fewer homeless persons have sought help at the pantry, she said, noting the state is helping them with housing and food. But the number of people served — albeit only a small number — has increased as those who had not been food insecure before the pandemic struggle with job loss.

Since the onset of the pandemic, guests have been served from tables outside to observe safety protocols. “Safety first,” Father Wiseman said.

The average food distribution per household is about 50 pounds.

Dr. Archie Budnikas, one of the volunteers from Sacred Heart St. Francis De Sales Parish, said he has a longstanding interest in addressing food insecurity and “wanted to do something for the church,” so helping with the food distribution fit the bill.

Another volunteer, Nancy Niles of St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington, wanted to do something to help others and “something that makes me feel useful.” She, too, found her place at HIS Pantry.