“Operation Fill Our Sanctuaries” took place in the three churches of the Rutland-Wallingford Catholic community in early May, garnering 220 bags of non-perishable food items and $12,885 in cash to help those served by BROC and The Community Cupboard.

“Jesus taught us to feed the hungry, to see to the needs of the poor, to love our neighbor. This is a concrete way each of us can help our neighbors in need,” said Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois, pastor of Christ the King and Immaculate Heart of Mary churches in Rutland and St. Patrick Church in Wallingford.

Though the churches joined their efforts with others throughout the Diocese of Burlington in the May St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative, the Rutland-Wallingford Catholic Community takes a similar collection twice a year, fall and spring. “It has increased exponentially since we started four years ago,” Msgr. Bourgeois said.

Operation Fill Our Sanctuaries conducted took place May 1-2 and 8-9. “We do it over two weekends, so that if someone forgot they can come back the following weekend, and it also gives us the opportunity to encourage more generosity. Many people gave on both weekends,” Msgr. Bourgeois said.

Non-perishable food was collected including canned vegetables and fruit, pasta, tuna, soups etc.

Bags are placed around the altar in the sanctuary. “It was common practice in the early Church to bring items for the poor to church and the priest would give them to the poor,” Msgr. Bourgeois explained. “That was the earliest practice of the offertory procession during Mass. It’s inspiring to see all those bags of food in the sanctuary. It gives new meaning to the prayer, ‘Pray, my brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours are acceptable to God the Father Almighty. …’ These are the sacrifices of our people, to help their brothers and sisters in need, offered up to God. At one point, there were so many I had to walk around them to distribute communion. A wonderful problem.”

He often preaches about the need to be generous. “It’s nice to see the fruit of that preaching as people come forth with bags of food and money,” Msgr. Bourgeois said.

“As a lifelong Catholic I am repeatedly humbled by the generosity and caring of the parishioners in the Rutland-Wallingford Catholic Community,” said Tom Donahue, CEO of BROC Community Action/BROC Community Food Shelf. “Father Bernie and Father Steven [Marchand, parochial vicar] have been community leaders in addressing local hunger and other critical needs long before and throughout the pandemic. Our Catholic churches continue to lead by example helping our neighbors most in need.”