Parish food collections benefit Vermonters who are food insecure
Churches throughout the Diocese of Burlington are celebrating the Year of St. Joseph with collections for the St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative. While some of the initiatives are unique to the special year in honor of the foster father of Jesus, others are ongoing charitable works.
Food insecurity in Vermont reached record levels during the Covid-19 pandemic, so in this Year of St. Joseph, Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne announced a new coordinated effort to increase the Catholic Church’s capacity to feed the hungry in Vermont.
In the Diocese of Burlington, there are 68 parishes, most of which are engaged in feeding the hungry. “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.”
In this issue of Vermont Catholic magazine, we look at a sampling of these food collections.
“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.”
Parishioners of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Shelburne are helping the food insecure in numerous ways.
Seniors are invited to pick up free meals-to-go once a month at St. Catherine of Siena Church with drive-through service as part of the Age Well meal-to-go program. Meals are prepared by Age Well caterers. “We package and provide pick up or delivery for about 100 meals per month,” said parishioner Ann Cousins.
The parish puts out baskets at the church to collect items for the Shelburne Food Shelf and toiletries for Joseph’s House in Burlington. When requested by Joseph’s House, the parish has provided grocery gift cards.
The youth of the parish have prepared and hosted parish meals with the proceeds going toward a particular need they identified; for example, proceeds from one meal helped hurricane recovery services.
Every other month, parishioners prepare and serve meals for Salvation Army guests. Serving is on pause while all meals are carry-out now due to Covid-19. “We have planned for between 50-125 guests with number fluctuating according to need,” Cousins reported.
Every other month, the parish prepares and hosts a meal for Dismas House; individual families have adopted Dismas House to provide meals.
St. Catherine families have been providing meals, once or twice a month, for those who are temporarily housed at Harbor Place in Shelburne.
Burlington (Christ the King-St. Anthony)
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.
Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne “has encouraged each parish in the Diocese to address food insecurity in their community” during the Year of St. Joseph, said Kathleen Bush, chair of the social outreach committee at Christ the King-St. Anthony Parish. “Msgr. [John] McDermott, [pastor,] had also expressed a wish for the parish to have a project during Lent that would involve as many parishioners as possible. So the committee chose to address both issues by holding this food drive.”
It took place March 7 in the parking lot at St. Anthony Church.
“I personally participated in this event because I have been so humbled by the needs of our community with regards to food insecurity,” Bush said. “We are asked, as Catholics, as part of our works of mercy to feed the hungry, and this was an opportunity to do just that.”
Bethel, Randolph, Rochester
Parishioners of the Catholic churches in Randolph, Bethel and Rochester conducted a food drive as part of the Diocese of Burlington’s St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative. Nearly 20 boxes of food and other items were collected.
The food was distributed to the Randolph Area Food Shelf and the Bethel Area Food Shelf.
Items “that fly off the shelves” were listed in the bulletins for Our Lady of the Angels and Our Lady of the Valley parishes, said Elizabeth Stuart, the parishes’ secretary. These items included canned foods, frozen beef and chicken breasts, hot dogs, yogurt, fruit juice, laundry detergent, hand soap and toilet paper.
“My feeling is that we have an innate need to share what we have or we get selfish and insular. We can give so we should give,” Stuart said.
The food was collected until the weekend of the March 20, just after the Feast of St. Joseph on March 19.
“Because this was in conjunction with the Feast Day of St. Joseph, Father John Carroll celebrated Mass at both Our Lady of the Angels and St. Anthony’s that day and incorporated a blessing of the foods collected at Mass,” Stuart noted.
Our Lady of the Valley has had a “long tradition” of supporting the Bethel Area Food Shelf, she said; there is always a bin at the entrance to the church for contributions which generally are delivered every week. Both parishes contribute monetarily to their respective food shelves.
Burlington (St. Joseph Cathedral)
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 diocesan-wide St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative.
“We had a lot of food,” but it was not weighed to determine exactly how much, reported Dorothy J. Barewicz, business manager/accountant for the cathedral parish. “It was two very large trunks full of food.”
Supporters of the effort also contributed $427 in cash for the North End Food Pantry, located in the New North End, which offers bags of free food to anyone who needs it.
As part of the St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative parishioners are asked to pray, volunteer for food programs and donate food to agencies that address food insecurity.
Parishioners of the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ludlow and Holy Name of Mary Church in Proctorsville have a food collection the first Sunday of every month, and they donate at other times too.
The collections benefit Black River Good Neighbor Services in Ludlow, the local food shelf and thrift store. Carol Baranowski of Holy Name of Mary Church is secretary of the organization and has helped with food-related services for several years.
“Food collections and donations are an important part of caring for our neighbors who might be in need,” she said. “With people out of work and perhaps struggling to put food on the table, we can all feel good about being a small part of making someone else’s life a little easier. It is a good opportunity to serve the Lord by serving our friends and neighbors.”
Usually four or five bags of food are collected; sometimes there are as many as 20.
The food collected comes from parishioners of both churches; prior to the pandemic,
it was collected in each church separately.
“It is important for the parish to engage in regular food collections because it draws us out of ourselves and into the lives of people whose poverty might be invisible to us. These people live near us in our village or in the surrounding townships, so they become our opportunity to serve the Lord in whomever He sends us,” Father Mosher said. “An organization such as Black River Good Neighbors connects us to the needy around us. They tell us what is needed food-wise so that we can meet the needs of our neighbors as they truly are, not simply as we might imagine them. According to the people who run BRGN, there is not a serious food insecurity problem here, but there is enough need that it keeps us from becoming complacent.”
Parishioners also donate money to be used purchase the needed items.
The churches been doing food collections for several years.
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.
In addition, Elfer reported that while brainstorming at a business meeting for a Lenten project, members of Father Boivin Council #5041 of the Knights of Columbus of Morrisville, discussed having a typical food collection for the area food shelves. Upon conversations with food shelf personnel, it was learned that food was available; however, there was a need for special diet foods not usually donated and a need for personal care products and cleaning supplies. The Knights then decided to raise funds for the food shelves to purchase those needed items. The council voted to match the first $1,000 raised.
A special collection basket was put on the offertory table in Most Holy Name Parish Church with special K of C envelopes made available. Pleas for support were made at each Mass for two weeks. In addition, an announcement was made in the parish bulletin that was emailed to all parishioners, giving the address to which donations could be mailed.
The first weekend $1,117 was collected. Members of the parish Social Action Ministry agreed to match the Knights’ $1,000 matching funds. During the next few weekends another $1,963 was collected, raising the grand total to $5,080.
In April, the Knights had a take-out steak dinner. The net proceeds of $940 was added to this project.
Funds were to be divided and given to the Johnson Food Shelf and Lamoille Community Food Share.
“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.
Operation Fill Our Sanctuaries conducted took place May 1-2 and 8-9. Non-perishable food was collected including canned vegetables and fruit, pasta, tuna, soups etc.
Bags were 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.”
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.
—Originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.