A special component of the Diocese of Burlington’s observance of the Year of St. Joseph, now ended, was the St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative, a program to harness the goodwill of the Catholic community through the 68 Vermont Catholic parishes to increase food donations and volunteer capacity at food shelves throughout the state.

Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne invited parishioners to participate in the initiative in three ways: pray for those who experience food insecurity, volunteer in a food pantry or at the Vermont FoodBank and donate food to a local food pantry.

Many Vermont parishes participated in the effort begun in May, during the worldwide Church celebration of The Year of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.

Food insecurity in Vermont reached record levels during the Covid-19 pandemic, so in this Year of St. Joseph, Bishop Coyne announced the new, coordinated effort to increase the Catholic Church’s capacity to feed the hungry in Vermont.

“From operating their own food pantries, to partnering with local food shelves to hosting regular food drives, our Catholic community is already actively engaged in feeding the hungry,” he said. “I began this initiative to increase our efforts across our Diocese to meet the growing need for food in the community.”

While some of the initiatives were unique to the special year, others are ongoing charitable works, and at least one — in Brattleboro — began during the Covid-19 pandemic as a way to help the food insecure while observing safety protocols.

Here is a look at some of the parishes that participated in the initiative.

The St. Brigid’s Farm Stand at St. Michael Parish in Brattleboro was part of the parish’s St. Brigid’s Kitchen and Pantry umbrella organization that also includes a soup kitchen and pantry,

The stand — located on the front lawn of St. Brigid’s Kitchen next to St. Michael School on Walnut Street — was stocked each morning with fresh fruit and vegetables, frozen meat, dry and canned goods and hygiene items like hand sanitizer, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Bread was stocked three times a week.

Parishioners of the three churches in the Essex Catholic Community donated to a special food drive May 1-2 in honor of St. Joseph the Provider. The food drive garnered 750 pounds of food, and the Knights of Columbus Bishop Rice Council delivered it to three local food shelves: Heavenly Pantry, Aunt Dot’s Place and the Essex-Jericho-Underhill Ecumenical Food Shelves.

The churches of St. John the Baptist in Enosburg Falls and St. Anthony in Sheldon Springs also participated in the May 1 diocesan food collection. There were 142 items donated at St. John’s for the Enosburg Food Shelf and 70 items at St. Anthony’s for the Sheldon Food Shelf. The collection included non-perishable food items along with hygiene and cleaning supplies.

“Non-food items were added by request of the food shelf because these are items that are in great need,” explained Susan Rainville, church administrative assistant. “They have more than enough food items through donations and the food bank but lack in personal care items and cleaning supplies which families also need.”

Parishioners of St. Andre Bessette Parish in northern Vermont are always supportive of Knights of Columbus endeavors, and a food drive was no exception. The parish sponsored a May 1-2 food drive for the St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative, and the Knights delivered some 150 pounds of non-perishable food items to Jay Food Shelf in Jay.

“We are committed to [trying] to participate as much as possible when we see or hear of a need in the community” such as the diocesan-wide food collection, said George Piette, Grand Knight of Father Meany-Father St. Onge Knights of Columbus Council #7943 in Troy and member of St. Andre Bessette Parish.

In Colchester, Our Lady of Grace Church had a food collection during the diocesan-wide May 1 and 2 St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative. It was was part of the parish’s regular, ongoing food collection.

The Our Lady of Grace food collection garnered 225.5 pounds of non-perishable foods like peanut butter, jelly, pasta, sauces, macaroni, rice, macaroni and cheese, soups, tuna fish, canned vegetables plus some personal care items and monetary donations.

All donations stay in the Colchester community and were delivered to the Colchester Food Shelf as are all the parish’s monthly food drive donations.

Parishioners of Christ the King-St. Anthony Parish and students from Christ the King School in Burlington participated in the Diocese of Burlington’s St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative, collecting items for Feeding Chittenden, formerly known as the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. Approximately 1,400 pounds of non-perishable food and toiletries were donated to the Lenten parish project as well as nearly $500 in cash and gift cards.

Parishioners of the Catholic churches in Randolph, Bethel and Rochester conducted a food drive as part of the St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative; nearly 20 boxes of food and other items were collected for the Randolph Area Food Shelf and the Bethel Area Food Shelf.

People attending the Holy Thursday service at St. Joseph Cathedral in Burlington donated food to be given to The North End Food Pantry as part of the St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative, and The Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Morrisville sponsored a food drive in honor of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1, his feast day.

A rented U-Haul van was parked outside of the church ready to be filled. “Our efforts yielded 900 pounds of non-perishable foods and $200,” said parishioner Mary Elfer, parish life coordinator.

The collection was divided and distributed to two local food shelves: Johnson Food Shelf and Lamoille Community Food Share.

“Charity begins at home. Our Catholic faith teaches us though that charity extends beyond the home out into our communities as we put into practice the Corporal Works of Mercy,” Elfer said.

—Originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.