Province Ministries a Blessing this Thanksgiving

HNP Communications Features

NEW YORK — Thanksgiving will be a bountiful one at food programs throughout the Province, as ministries thank God for their many blessings. This year’s bounty will also be a blessing because food programs anticipate being able to help an increased number of hungry guests this year, as more people feel the effects of a bad economy.

Early this month, donations had been pouring into church- and Province-run soup kitchens and food pantries, and appeals were being made for more. Volunteers were being recruited, and parishioners were preparing to donate food, cook turkeys, fill brown bags, and welcome guests.

While there are many Province-based ministries that feed the hungry, HNP Today caught up recently with a few. This report shows a sampling of outreach this Thanksgiving at several representative ministries — Saint Anthony Shrine in Boston, St. Patrick-St. Anthony in Hartford, St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, and St. Camillus in Silver Spring, Md.

In Boston
The Franciscan Food Center and Baby Place at Saint Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston celebrates the generosity of many parishioners and neighbors. Unlike other programs, it is in the unique position of being able to offer meat to those in need because people generously funded commercial-grade freezers and refrigerators.

The ministry was established this year when David Convertino, OFM, the shrine’s director, responded to phone calls from people seeking groceries. He investigated and found need for a food pantry.

“We partnered with seven agencies in the Boston area,” he said. “We knew they have a large population of elderly and families in need.”

Saint Anthony’s “model program” focuses on what is called “client choice.” This allows people to come to the center and have volunteers “shop” for food, getting only what their families like. The clients also can be educated on the food pyramid and making balanced meals. They will have meat, fresh produce, eggs, cheese and milk.

Open Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m., the center in the basement of the shrine has been serving 50 families and about 20 seniors. The Baby Center provides food, formula and toys.

For Thanksgiving, the center will make up about 100 baskets to be given on the Tuesday before the holiday. Baskets will include a turkey and all the traditional trimmings, a disposable aluminum roasting pan, and cooking instructions.

In Hartford
The “Giving Thanks – Our Active Response” is well underway at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in Hartford.

The parish offers members several ways to reach out to those in need. They can prepare and serve breakfast at the House of Bread, the parish’s partner soup kitchen ministry, make brown bag lunches at the Franciscan Center to be distributed at the House of Bread, and donate food. The parish was specifically collecting juice boxes, oranges/apples, pre-packaged cookie snacks, small bags of chips, candies and pleated sandwich bags.

Food donations will to be blessed at a Vigil Mass on Nov. 26.

In its newsletter, the parish reminded people to remember with thanksgiving their many blessings from God.

It read: “Each fall, we celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving with many of our own family traditions. We invite you to continue a church family tradition begun six years ago here at St. Patrick-St. Anthony. Gather to reflect on that in our life for which we are thankful. From the tables at the House of Bread, to our Eucharistic table, to your table at home, we will be people not only giving thanks but also living thanks.”

In Philadelphia
At St. Francis Inn in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, friars, sisters, and volunteers from the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry will be helping the hungry this holiday.

Sister Mary Augustini, who is part of the team, said holiday plans included serving a traditional turkey meal on Thanksgiving from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., with 48 people at a seating. Michael Duffy, OFM, will be on hand to help out.

Last year, the inn had 350 Thanksgiving guests, and this year more were expected. “We’re getting enough turkey for 400, with pies, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce,”  Sr. Mary said.

Food is both donated by individuals and parishes, and purchased, she said.

“The difference this year will be in the number of people. We will have more people,” according to Sr. Mary.

In addition, volunteers were being organized, with special participation from high school and college students, she added.

“It’s a wonderful time,” she said. “People come, relax and enjoy themselves.” While clients are waiting in line for their meals, Sr. Mary said she has heard them discussing spiritual things. “People will ask, ‘Sister, will you say a prayer for me’?”

In Silver Spring
St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., is poised for another Thanksgiving, after opening a second food pantry earlier this month. Called La Despensa de San Antonio, or St. Anthony’s Food Pantry, the new center is named in honor of St. Anthony’s love for the poor.

Parishioner Joan Conway, a retired nutrition scientist, is one of the coordinators of the church’s food program and is joyful to be working in a ministry that is close to her heart. St. Camillus parishioner Jean Guevara coordinates the volunteers.

“My wish this Thanksgiving,” Conway said, “is that no one in our region goes hungry. I hope that Americans begin to understand that food is a right –- we have rights as human beings, and that one of those rights is adequate food.”

St. Camillus, which already hosts one food pantry in the friary basement, recognized the need for another pantry in the community in order to reach the mostly immigrant population living in Langley Park. The parish already had a mission community called the Catholic Community of Langley Park that worships each Sunday in a school gymnasium. The food pantry was opened in the basement of a garden apartment complex, according to Conway, near the mission church established by Lawrence Hayes, OFM. 

Most of those working at the  program are of Hispanic background, Conway said. Their roles range from volunteer coordinators to computer programmers.

La Despensa was dedicated and blessed on Nov. 14.

The pantries give out groceries worth about $67, according to Conway, which usually feed a family of four for four days. The parish team assembles food for meals that are not only nutritious and safe but also culturally appropriate, she said. Guests receive a menu and can select the types of canned and packaged food they want.

For example, she said, immigrants will get rice and beans, but the bag also includes peanut butter and jelly and macaroni and cheese, because that’s what children want to eat. It also includes iron-fortified cereals.

Feeding about 800 families last year, Conway expects a rise in the numbers of people coming to the food pantry now.

“We expect a 30 to 35 percent increase. People who are coming now aren’t just immigrant families.” In the first two days of operation of the new pantry, the volunteers provided food to 50 families.

Parishioners donate food to stock the pantries in the “Each One, Bring One” program. The goal is for each of St. Camillus’ 4,500 parishioners to bring one food item to Mass. Its school children bring groceries once a month on “Friday Food Frenzy.” Day-old bread is also donated by local bakeries, and supermarket gift cards are donated by individuals.

The parish also coordinates with other faith partners, including St. Elizabeth in Rockville, Md., Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac, Md., and St. Francis in Derwood, Md. “Thanks to God in God’s goodness, we have new benefactors from a Buddhist organization, Tzu Chi, who bring us food once a month,” said Conway.

Unlike the food program at Saint Anthony Shrine in Boston, St. Camillus is not  able to offer meat or fresh produce because of a lack of freezers and refrigerators, according to Conway, but Tzu Chi has donated frozen chickens for Thanksgiving.

While St. Camillus food pantries will operate as usual during Thanksgiving week, special holiday baskets will be provided by the church’s St. Vincent DePaul Society. Local firemen and the Lockheed Martin Corp. provide enough turkeys and trimmings to be delivered to 25 families.

Ministries Make a Difference
After Thanksgiving, the pantries will continue to help the hungry, said Conway, especially in January and February when donations typically decrease.

“In a country of so much, there are people who go hungry,” said Conway.

But with programs like these throughout the Province, parishioners are making a difference.

“We are the Body of Christ, and we have to feed one another,” said Conway. “Our faith is a food-based faith, Christ feeds us in the Eucharist.”

Shown in photo above is Larry Hayes in Silver Spring, Md.

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.