Churches Offer Food and Holiday Warmth

HNP Communications Features

NEW YORK — Reaching out to the needy at this time of year is a common tradition for many, especially for Franciscans, whose ministry touches the poor and marginalized in a special way.

To see how Province churches are helping others during this season of giving, HNP Today surveyed some of its nearly 40 communities. Here is a sampling of how friars and their partners-in-ministry are meeting needs during this holiday season. 

In Northern States
Since 2008, the Franciscan Food Center at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston has been helping families make ends meet. For Thanksgiving, it provided more than 350 food baskets, including a frozen turkey and all the trimmings, to families. Volunteers and donors said they look forward to providing similar assistance for Christmas. 

The Food Center, founded by shrine director David Convertino, OFM, and Boston mayor Thoman Menino, offers clients a choice from a large grocery list, including meat and dairy, fresh and canned vegetables and fresh bread. It aids more than 700 families and receives about 5,000 to 10,000 pounds of food a week from the Greater Boston Food Bank, the CEO Council for Hunger and individuals. 

In Western New York, Richard Husted, OFM, said St. Bonaventure Church in Allegany, where he is pastor, distributed its annual Thanksgiving baskets to 76 families this year, up from 55 last year. The baskets were assembled by parishioners on Nov. 21 and made available for families to pick up at the church’s garage. The parish also provided coats collected in its coat drive.

Mid-Atlantic States
St. Stephen of Hungary in New York City held a community dinner on Thanksgiving Day, according to pastorAngelus Gambatese, OFM. For a small fee of $5, guests were given a traditional holiday meal.

St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island, N.J., held its annual Thanksgiving dinner, serving approximately 90 people for a sit-down meal. The parish also sent 80 meals to the homebound and the homeless, including a family with two children living out of a car. Taking part in this dinner were the friars and sisters of the parish community — Stephen Kluge, OFM, pastor, Thomas Conway, OFM, James Scullion, OFM, John Ullrich, OFM, and Sisters Pat Klemm, OSF, and Kate Murphy, OSF.

The event was arranged and hosted by parish families, with teenagers serving the meal. “We give door prizes. It is a very nice afternoon,” Stephen said.

For Christmas, the parish is organizing a “Gift of Warmth” program, asking people to donate shoes, blankets and warm clothing for children. The church expects to serve 600 children this Christmas. Additionally, the parish’s Human Concerns Program, part of the Family Services Department, has seen a 30 percent increase in usage since October, according to Stephen. By September, the program had already surpassed the number of people served all last year.

Since Thanksgiving ad Christmas season is a time to thank God for his generosital to us as well as to bless others, St. Anton of Padua Parish in Camden, N.J.,  runs food and gift drives to help meet the needs of pariioners and communitiy emmber who wuld otherwisego without, according to the parish’s December newsletter. The December 2009 issue said,  “The  isyear we are grateful to deacon Fadi Azar, OFM, and his team of volunteers who led the Thanksgiving projeect.”

“Most of the people coming in are working poor Anglos,” Stephen said. “They come in primarily for assistance for bills. They are hesitant to take food. We encourage the clients to take food so they can use the money they spend on groceries for bill-paying.”

Joan Conway, who coordinates the Ministry to Feed the Hungry at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., was pleased to share with HNP Today that the program was being well supported by the community. She estimates that the church feeds approximately 400 people a month and expects a busy December.

The program recently received several large donations. Conway said, “We received a $15,000 grant for food purchases from the Neighbors in Need Fund of the Community Fund of Metro Washington, D.C., and another $4,000 food credit grant from the Capitol Area Food Bank as part of the Abe’s Table Program of Abe Polin and the Washington Wizards.”

Also, the parish received a $20,000 grant from the Knights of Malta to purchase baby formula and baby food.  “We are delighted to focus on this special  age group whoe nutritional status directly affects the  quality of life for the future,” she said.

Earlier this fall, the parish collaborated with the Priority Partners Program of the Capitol Area Food Bank and distributed 6,000 pounds of fresh produce to families to commemorate the Feast of St. Francis on Oct. 4. 

In the South
In addition to serving Thanksgiving meals, St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville, S.C., continues to distribute nearly 1,000 bags of groceries a week, according to Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor. The parish also recently began distributing vouchers for kerosene so families can keep their houses warm.

In addition, 20 residents will eat better with new dentures, thanks to the church paying the dental bills for people who couldn’t afford them. “The city pulls teeth for free,” said Patrick, “but leaves the food of this world to be gummed. Hardly enjoyable, never mind the fact that smiling is awkward.”

The hospitality of these Franciscan communities helps provide warmth during the holidays to people up and down the East Coast.

The photo above shows members of the St. Camilus young adult group, Esperanza Latina, with men from St. Elizabeth’s parish in Rockville, Md.

— Wendy Healy, a freelance-writer based in Connecticut, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today. Rebecca Doel, HNP communications coordinator, contributed to this story.