Reaching out to those in need, as St. Francis would, is never more rewarding than during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. The St. Francis Inn, Holy Name’s venerable food ministry in Philadelphia, fed 1,000 persons on Thanksgiving, with either a turkey dinner at its location, or with a take-home food basket.
“Even though having Thanksgiving at a soup kitchen may not be the ideal place to celebrate such a holiday, the sight of all our guests bowing their heads, and praying a heartfelt grace before the meal made the spirit of Thanksgiving as real as anywhere,” observed Michael Duffy, OFM, director of the inn.
St. Anthony Shrine in Boston estimates that its Food Center fed some 2,500 persons, distributing approximately 8,000 pounds of turkey and chicken, and another 7,500 pounds of take-home groceries for side dishes.
With this kind of response to those in need in the Province, it’s easy to see that requests for meals were increased this year, especially in today’s tough economic times. The food pantry at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., reports a 40 percent increase in usage over the last few months.
All along the East Coast, friars and ministry members spent Thanksgiving week reaching out to their communities in a variety of ways. The projects began Nov. 19 in Western New York, where St. Bonaventure Parish in Allegany distributed Thanksgiving food baskets to needy families in the area.
“On Saturday, 70 food baskets, including frozen turkey, potatoes, boxed stuffing, milk, bread, frozen vegetable and pies were provided by parishioners for 70 needy families in the area,” said pastor James Vacco, OFM. “While we provided for those 70 families, the parishioners were generous by donating turkeys and food for close to 100. The leftover donations were split between St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in nearby Olean, which provides a Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving Day for people who are needy or alone, and Genesis House, the women’s shelter in Olean.”
“At weekend Masses on the first Sunday of Advent, a special collection is taken up and a bake sale is held by the students for St. Luke’s Mission in Buffalo, N.Y. The high school religious education students then travel to Buffalo to buy Christmas gifts with the money collected for the teenagers served by St. Luke’s Mission.”
The following Monday, the Franciscan Food Center of St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, held its annual Thanksgiving project.
According to John Maganzini, OFM, the center provided turkeys and groceries to more than 800 people, which tallies to more than 8,000 pounds of birds. The daylong project, held on Nov. 21, was “full of energy and many smiles,” he said.
At 7 a.m., more than 50 volunteers and partners on the Boston police gathered for 12 hours of service. John said, “Over the course of the day, we were especially grateful for the work and participation of James Patrick Kelly, OFM, the Shrine’s director, Raymond Selker, OFM, a member of the Food Center team, Brian Cullinane, OFM, Mario Gomez, OFM, Barry Langley, OFM, and Ronald Stark, OFM.
“Our menu included a choice of a 14-pound turkey or a 4-pound chicken, plus baguette, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, potatoes, butternut squash, juice, eggs, canned corn, canned pineapple and Italian cookies. The generosity of our partners — including Sysco, BJs, the Greater Boston Food Bank, US Foods, and several local businesses, as well as Mayor Thomas Menino, made it possible for us to provide the ingredients for a wonderful Thanksgiving for more than 2,500 people.”
On the holiday itself, many parishes and ministries offered food to community members.
In New Jersey, St. Francis Community Center on Long Beach Island, adjacent to St. Francis of Assisi Church, provided an annual Thanksgiving meal.
The youth ministry ran the annual Thanksgiving community meal, said staff member Lori Dudek. “We had 58 people for a sit-down dinner and 135 meals delivered. The participation from last year to this year is about the same, but last year there were more people at the sit-down dinner and fewer meals delivered.”
“We have switched programs at the center to reflect the needs of feeding families, paying utilities, family support and job searches. We have seen about a 20-percent increase in these services in the last year,” she said.
In Philadelphia, St. Francis Inn provided meals to more than 1,000 people through both a traditional dinner on Thanksgiving and delivery of food baskets to people who cook at home, according to Michael Duffy.
All the food was donated by various groups, families and parishes, said Karen Pushaw, a St. Francis Inn team member for more than 20 years.
“A benefactor covered the cost of the food we purchased,” she added. “Thanksgiving is one of only two days of the year when we purchase a part of the meal so that we can serve a consistent feast. The meal was turkey with gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, cornbread, pie and a drink. We also handed out small bags of candy. We created a festive atmosphere by using paper place mats handmade by a school.”
“Everyone thinks of the poor at Thanksgiving, and our donations of turkeys, food, clothing, and other items easily quadruples,” said Michael. “All the activity makes for some hectic times, but it is all worth it.”
Thanksgiving at St. Francis Inn “begins our busy season, which lasts through Christmas,” he added.
“We were able to put together roughly 160 Thanksgiving baskets, complete with a turkey and all the fixings, to distribute to our people who have homes and wanted to celebrate with their families.”
“Adding the baskets for home and the more than 300 we fed here at the Inn, we provided meals for about 1,000 people,” Michael said. Pushaw added: “The number of people the Inn feeds on Thanksgiving is lower than usual both because of the many places that serve a holiday meal and the fact that families prefer to eat the holiday meal at home.”
In North Carolina, Raleigh’s Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi conducted a turkey drive to meet the requests for food. “We collected 42 turkeys and $240,” said Frank Lesko, the parish’s Justice and Peace coordinator. “We served a generous portion to Passage Home, an organization that guides people out of homelessness,” he said. “We also helped a family from our pre-school. Finally, the food pantry of Our Lady of the Rosary, a local parish, received a generous helping, as well. There were lots of happy folks gobbling up some turkey this holiday season.”
He continues: “For future growth, we are looking to find a corporate sponsor to partner a turkey collection with another ministry, such as a fall season blood drive. The possibility for a cornucopia of collaboration is rich here.”
On the weekend after Thanksgiving, St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., just outside the nation’s capital, provided close to 200 food packages to families in need.
“We purchased 186 chickens with funds from generous donors from St. Camillus and parishioners of our partnering churches — St. John the Baptist, Silver Spring; St. Elizabeth’s in Rockville; Our Lady of Mercy, Potomac; and Holy Redeemer, Kensington,” said Joan Conway, director of the parish’s food pantry. “They were the centerpiece of the food packages we gave to each family the weekend of Nov. 25 and 26, along with the culturally-appropriate food of masa (dough) for tortillas, dried black beans, rice, vegetable oil, and fresh and canned fruits and vegetables.”
Erick Lopez, OFM, and volunteer Moises Cervantes, who are shown in the photo loading cases of chickens, were among the volunteers.
The number of families coming to the St. Camillus pantry last summer and early fall has increased by 40 percent, said Conway. “We are working hard to meet the need. We have several grant applications pending and hope to be able to continue to meet the demand as the winter comes and seasonal jobs disappear.
“Along with the increase in families, we have served 30 percent more children this year than last. The Food Pantry, in collaboration with the JPIC committees of St. Camillus, is implementing a plan to provide assistance to families with applications for the USDA SNAP program — formerly known as food stamps. We hope this will improve sustainable access to food for many.”
Collaboration, community spirit and Franciscan compassion will surely continue throughout the Christmas season around the Province.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
Editor’s note: Information and photos about Thanksgiving services of other Provincial ministries can be found on ministry websites and Facebook pages.