Vermont parishes continue to feed those 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, and at least one — in Brattleboro — began during the Covid-19 pandemic as a way to help the food insecure while observing safety protocols.
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.”
This issue of Vermont Catholic magazine highlights charitable works to feed those who are in need of food.
“Ohhh, carrots! Time for carrot cake,” Tammy Sullivan enthused as she stepped into St. Brigid’s Farm Stand at St. Michael Parish in Brattleboro.
The Vernon grandmother stops at the farm stand almost every day to get food for her family and others who need it; it’s all free.
Part of the parish’s St. Brigid’s Kitchen and Pantry umbrella organization that also includes a soup kitchen and pantry, the farm stand — opened last fall — is always open and helps those who are experiencing food insecurity.
“This works great,” Sullivan said. “I can stop in anytime.” She sometimes gets meals from the soup kitchen (which serves much more than soup), but mostly stops for items at the farm stand like fresh fruits and vegetables or packaged meat. She has her own chickens, so she does not need the fresh, local eggs displayed in a large basket.
The stand — located on the front lawn of St. Brigid’s Kitchen next to St. Michael School on Walnut Street — is stocked each morning with fresh fruit and vegetables, frozen meat, dry and canned goods and hygiene items like hand sanitizer, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Bread is stocked three times a week.
Such items had been distributed in an alcove of the dining room of St. Brigid’s Kitchen, but the operation moved outside because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Inclement weather took down the three canopies that had been used to protect and shade the items, so the wooden shed was built for the farm stand.
“People like coming to a little, neighborhood farm stand,” said Carolyn Pieciak, volunteer director of Brigid’s Kitchen and Pantry. People enter the shed one at a time. “It’s not a great big place where everybody is standing in line, which is so demoralizing.”
Hundreds of pounds of food are distributed each week; between 25 and 35 households are served each day. Those served include the elderly, families, neighbors and those experiencing homelessness.
Brigid’s served some 25,000 individuals in 2019, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic, that number was down to 18,000 last year as the homeless population received housing and food assistance through state programs. Yet food distribution tripled, according to Pieciak, because more seniors and families needed help during the economic downturn.
Most of the more than 100 volunteers, like Pieciak, are parishioners of St. Michael’s, including the farm stand managers, Maryann Corey and Yudah Huestis. “I like helping people,” Huestis said. “My mother did it [in Palau, Micronesia], and here I am doing it.”
Her Catholic faith “tells us to help people, help everybody,” she said. “We are blessed by helping others.”
Another parishioner and volunteer, Kate Maceda, added, “How can I not do this? You do what you can in the community. All faiths tell us to do that.”
Pieciak praised St. Michael Parish for its work to help those who are food insecure; St. Brigid’s has been in operation for nearly 40 years and is well known for its charitable work. “Our parish has been so supportive of all our work,” she said.
The farm stand — built with donations — will remain open through each season.
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 effort was part of the diocesan-wide St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative.
The food drive garnered 750 pounds of food, and the Knights of Columbus Bishop Rice Council delivered the food to three local food shelves: Heavenly Pantry, Aunt Dot’s Place and the Essex-Jericho-Underhill Ecumenical Food Shelves.
“Parishioners are involved in all three well-stacked food shelves, and weekly collections take place in all three churches plus parishioners donate when shopping at local food markets,” said Edmundite Father Charles Ranges, pastor of Holy Family and St. Lawrence churches in Essex Junction and St. Pius X Church in Essex Center.
Parishioners also support the food shelves financially.
“Obviously, feeding the hungry is important,” Father Ranges said. “It is a Gospel mandate and no one anywhere in the world should go hungry.”
Enosburg Falls/Sheldon Springs
The churches of St. John the Baptist in Enosburg Falls and St. Anthony in Sheldon Springs participated in the May 1 diocesan food collection as part of the St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative during the worldwide celebration of The Year of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.
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.”
The St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative is largely a communication effort to connect the Catholic community with organizations that feed the hungry and increase capacity to feed the hungry by increasing volunteerism and food donations through local parish partnerships and foodbank initiatives throughout the state.
Many churches, like those in Enosburg Falls and Sheldon Springs, have boxes available at the churches at all times for donations to the food shelves. “Our support for our local food shelves is ongoing throughout the year,” Rainville said, adding that when there are special food collections such as the St. Joseph the Provider collection, “more people get involved and we have an abundance of donations that we can offer to our local food shelves.”
Some of these donations are also monetary which food shelf personnel can use to purchase items that are needed.
Knights of Columbus
Parishioners of St. Andre Bessette Parish are always supportive of Knights of Columbus endeavors, and a recent food drive was no exception.
The parish sponsored a May 1-2 food drive for the St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative, an initiative of the Diocese of Burlington, 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.
The parish consists of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Troy, St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Lowell and St. Vincent de Paul Church in North Troy.
The Knights’ council also conducted food drives for Thanksgiving 2020, Advent 2020 and Lent 2021. Another food drive will be done in time for Thanksgiving 2021.
Other recent projects the members of Father Meany-Father St. Onge Knights of Columbus Council were involved with in were scrapping and repainting the St. Andre Bessette Parish rectory, helping an elderly widow bring in and stack winter wood, paying the delinquent electric bill for a non-parishioner who was on the verge of having the electricity turned off and purchasing winter coats for children.
“Many families have been hit really hard during the pandemic, and food insecurity is a real problem,” said Veronica Hershberger, lay ecclesial minister, director of religious education and administrative assistant at Our Lady of Grace Church in Colchester. “It’s important for our parish to support the Colchester Food Shelf because we are directly helping families in our own parish as well as the local community.”
The parish had a food collection during the diocesan-wide May 1 and 2 St. Joseph the Provider Feed the Hungry Initiative. The Our Lady of Grace collection 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.
The parish has partnered with the Colchester Food Shelf for more than 20 years through the “Not Just Food” program. “The five congregations in Colchester (Our Lady of Grace, Holy Cross, The United Church, St. Andrew’s Episcopal and Malletts Bay Congregational) have been faithfully and heartily supporting the Colchester Food Shelf for years with an increased commitment to support them since it moved to its new location on Main Street in Colchester,” Harshbarger said. “We are called to feed the hungry through the Corporal Works of Mercy. Having our [Our Lady of Grace] food donation baskets at the entrances of the church allows people the opportunity to do so on a weekly basis. We encourage people to bring items every week when they come to Mass.”
Although the parish has an ongoing reminder and request for donations in the bulletin that includes a new requested item every month, for the St. Joseph the Provider weekend, parishioners were encouraged to bring any kind of items, not just the requested items for May.
The collection was “part of our ongoing support from the parishes of Colchester in support of Colchester Food Shelf and our call to feed the hungry,” commented Father William Beaudin, pastor.
“Our Lady of Grace will continue to encourage people to make weekly donations which we deliver to the Colchester Food Shelf,” Harshbarger said.
For more information, go to vermontcatholic.org/about/year-of-st-joseph/feed-the-hungry.
—Originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.