South Carolina Parish Feeds the Needy on Palm Sunday

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

ANDERSON, S.C. – Parishioners and friars of St. Mary of the Angels Church here served a Palm Sunday dinner for the needy last weekend to nearly 200 community members. “Every seat was full,” according to Laurie Kennedy, the parishioner who organized the event. 

The March 16 event, organized by the parish Outreach Committee, is an annual gathering that welcomes the poor and underprivileged of Anderson, a city in western South Carolina. The turkey dinner was prepared by eight parishioners who cooked eight turkeys, with others bringing side dishes and desserts.

The guests were very comfortable in the relaxed atmosphere of the gathering, said Kennedy, committee chair and organizer of the first dinner four years ago with her daughter, Heather. It has since expanded to be a well-attended and widely-known event, with Kennedy’s four-year-old granddaughter helping out this year. 

“The turnout and atmosphere were great,” said Kennedy. In past events, the guests wanted to take the meals to go, according to Kennedy, but this year, she said, they were happy to sit together and enjoy the food and fellowship. “All the food was gone by the end of the dinner,” she said. One guest said he was “thrilled,” because he could eat all he wanted, she added.  

The dinner was initially held at Thanksgiving, Kennedy said, but rescheduled for a time of year when free meals aren’t as plentiful. “Many churches and groups provide Thanksgiving dinners,” she said.  The dinner was held in the parish’s Gorman Hall, named for church founder Francis Gorman, OFM.

Both pastor Aubrey McNeil, OFM, at left in photo, and Thaddeus Sapio, OFM, right, who relocated to Anderson in November, helped at the dinner. “Parishioners here are very generous; many give of their time to many programs,” Thaddeus said. Both friars sat and ate with the guests, according to Kennedy. 

Generous Parishioners Help Familiar Faces 
Many of the guests were familiar to parishioners, as clients of the Anderson Emergency Soup Kitchen and the Clean Start program, where many volunteers are from the St. Mary’s parish. “Many people who are out on the streets know a lot of us,” Kennedy said.

The soup kitchen, located across from a low-income apartment development near the church, feeds 70 to 80 people six days a week. Attendance often increases to close to 100 at the end of a month, said Lester McDowell, a volunteer who is chair of the kitchen’s board.

The soup kitchen, in a one-story house, was recently given a facelift by parishioner Anne Dennis, who thought it needed to be more cheery. “I found it a dark place,” said Dennis. “I thought the place should look and feel more uplifting. Brighter is more pleasant.”

The walls are now a sunny yellow, decorated with pleasant pictures and signs, showing positive words such as “faith” and “hope.” Dennis is also working on a collage of volunteer photos for the walls, ”There is nothing dark about the people here,” she said. 

Talent and Treasure Help Clean Start 
Many clients of the soup kitchen take advantage of the services of Clean Start, which offers showers and laundry services to the homeless. The facility was founded in 2006 by Parish Council Vice President Greg Williams on a suggestion from Franciscan Volunteer Ministry member Dan Zinn. 

“This project boils down to being Franciscan,” said Jerry Hudson, OFM, in an article in the March 2006 issue of The Anthonian. Jerry is a former Clean Start manager.

Anderson2267LGThe facility received a generous donation recently. Clean Start was one of three area charities awarded  $10,000 at the annual Foothills Gala on Feb. 23 in Anderson. The check was accepted by Lester McDowell, a St. Mary’s worshipper and dedicated Clean Start volunteer, and parishioner Norene Smith, Clean Start’s operating manager.

At its establishment, the facility was given a donation from the Province’s Benevolence Fund. 

“Through David Hyman, OFM, we were able to get a sizeable contribution from the Franciscans,” said Russ Dennis, a Clean Start volunteer, who also donates his time to the soup kitchen and to parish events. David was pastor of the church from 1994 until 2005. 

“Many of Clean Start’s donations come from people who know Lester McDowell,” Dennis added. 

“Going to Mass every day at St. Mary’s motivates me,” said retiree McDowell. “Catholics have always reached out.”

St. Mary’s has a long history of community service, beginning when Francis Gorman came to Anderson in the early 1940s to establish a Franciscan church. Francis got to know the community by walking around the low-income neighborhoods and inviting residents to church, according to McDowell. The friars have had a presence in the area for nearly 65 years.

— Jocelyn Thomas is the Province’s Director of Communications.