When the Sisters of Charity at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, Bronx, New York, established a food outreach initiative, called Vincent’s Table, to feed needy families in the borough and lower Westchester County, Christopher Keenan, OFM – who was part of a friar fraternity living on the campus and serving as chaplain to the student population – saw an opportunity for Holy Name Province to partner in with the women religious order in their ministry to address food insecurity.
In addition to a recent $20,000 donation from Holy Name Province, Franciscan support for Vincent’s Table also comes from the Breadline Delivers Food Pantry, which operates from St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street in New York City.
Since launching a year ago, Vincent’s Table has served more than 3,600 people. It has expanded its assistance to Bronx and Westchester communities by adding a breakfast club for food-insecure nursing students at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, along with a well-stocked, discreet pantry and refrigerator on campus for struggling students and staff members.
“We’re so blessed with having people who support our vision and who want to help,” said Kevin Mullen, OFM, Provincial Minister. “They may not be there to give the sandwiches out, or to pass out the local bread, or to cook the meals, but they provide the resources for us to pass on to the folks at Vincent’s Table.”
According to the president of the Sisters of Charity, meeting the needs of the marginalized has always been part of the order’s history. “Looking at what was happening after the pandemic and the food insecurity in our country, it seemed like a good idea to establish some kind of food pantry that would be able to feed people in lower Westchester and the Bronx. That’s how Vincent’s Table came about,” said Sr. Donna Dodge, SC.
It’s a mission led by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to Carlos Sanchez, a deacon at Our Lady of Angels Parish in the Bronx, where Vincent’s Table distributes bags of food once a month to food-insecure families of color.
“During his time, Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be amongst you.’ That’s why we are all here – to help one another. [Jesus] set the example by saying, ‘I did not come to be served, but to serve,’” Carlos said.
According to Patrick Regan, director of Franciscan Bread for the Poor, Inc., more than 150 bags filled with groceries are provided to Vincent’s Table by the Breadline Delivers Food Pantry. “We buy the food and arrange for volunteers to pack the bags, and then members of Mount Saint Vincent’s campus ministry [roll up in a van and] pick up the bags, and deliver them to (one of the drop-off locations) Our Lady of Angels Parish – where the bags are distributed by Vincent’s Table staff,” explained Patrick.
Occasionally among the volunteers who pack the bags are members of the FDNY from the firehouse on West 31st Street across from St. Francis Church.
“Despite it being one of the busiest houses in the city, firefighters help out when they can, but especially when they see the van being loaded. Many hands make easy work of moving 150 grocery bags from the pantry to the van – and the firefighters are always ready to jump in as long as they’re not being summoned to a call,” explained Christopher, beloved by the FDNY for his 20 years of service as their Fire Chaplain.
Christopher said the partnership between HNP and Vincent’s Table was the result of the longstanding collaborative ministry work with the Sisters of Charity and the friars’ connection to the College of Mount Saint Vincent.
“Partnership in ministry is a special characteristic of Holy Name Province. My experience has always been that friars minister with people, rather than to people. The only effective response to New York City’s tragedy of food insecurity is through networking and partnerships – for what we can’t do alone, we can do together,” said Christopher.
“There was a group of Province friars – I was part of the group – who lived on campus, serving in chaplain ministry to the students and working with the College and the Sisters of Charity to address food insecurity issues with local families and students. It was a natural fit for the Province and friars to support Vincent’s Table,” explained Christopher, who lived in the student dorms and served as a resident chaplain for seven years. The group also included Christopher Dunn, OFM, and recently deceased friars, Benedict Taylor, OFM, and Ronald Pecci, OFM.
Although the Province withdrew the contemplative fraternity from the College last June, Christopher Keenan says the friar presence is “still alive and vibrant through the generosity of HNP and the Breadline pantry. It is a wonderful story that demonstrates the generosity of our ministries and our Province – addressing the food needs of students on campus and Black and Hispanic families in the Bronx and Yonkers,” he added.
Vincent’s Table also provides free breakfast to Mount Saint Vincent students – a program inspired by a student nurse. “[The Vincent’s Table breakfast club] came about from a student nurse who mentioned that a lot of the College’s nursing students are hungry when they go to class. [It has been] proven that you can’t focus on your studies when you’re hungry. As soon as we heard that, we went to Vincent’s Table in Rosary Hall and started a breakfast club,” said Sr. Katie Aucoin, SC, a volunteer with the breakfast club, which serves bagels, trail mix, granola bars, cereal, and fruit cups.
In addition, Vincent’s Table implemented a stocked pantry and refrigerator for students and staff on campus that, according to Susan Burns, Ph.D., president of the College of Mount Saint Vincent, was inspired by an employee.
“[The program] recently learned about an employee who had some family challenges and was not willing to come forward to share those challenges, but thanked her supervisor for [the] opportunities on campus [that meet the community’s needs],” explained Susan. “That’s the importance of the refrigerator on campus – that it’s tucked away but available, and that people can stop by and not feel embarrassed to address a very human need. It’s transformational [because] it could stop someone from going hungry that day.”
“We all come together for a common mission, and that’s to be in service to those in need,” said Stephanie Ali, a consultant and volunteer with Vincent’s Table. “[The recipients] thank us profusely, and we thank them for allowing us to serve them.”
Those receiving the food assistance are grateful for Vincent’s Table and the volunteers who operate the program.
“This helps us a lot because with the little government assistance we receive, we can barely buy anything. This makes up for the void of not having any other income. We need a lot of help. That is why we [come] here,” said a recipient of the bag of groceries distributed by Vincent’s Table at Our Lady of Angels Parish.
Jordan Douglas, director of Vincent’s Table, said, “The reaction of people when they receive the food is joy and gratitude. You can feel a sense of calmness and relief, especially with large families. Although it’s just food, it means far more [than that].”
“It brings a smile to everyone’s face,” said Anjolie Ramos, a student at the College of Mount Saint Vincent who volunteers with Vincent’s Table.
“I’ve never really given back until now. This is my opportunity to give back,” said Alex Torres, a volunteer with the breakfast club who cheerfully greets students as they enter Rosary Hall – asking them if they are hungry and encouraging them to help themselves to the breakfast spread on the tables.