Bare shelves spur donation challenge

Jim Thomas, right, loaded cans into a grocery bag that was given to a St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry client on the morning of Sept. 15. The St. Albert the Great Church parishioner said donations have been down and the need has increased in recent months. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

St. Albert the Great Church recently made a sizable donation to area food pantries and is challenging other parishes to do the same.

After learning about the bare shelves and diminished donations at area food pantries, Mary Lynn Legel, the church’s social concerns coordinator, pulled together just over $1,200 and went shopping. At Costco, that money bought enough corn, beans, macaroni and cheese, chicken noodle soup and peanut butter to provide for 100 St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry clients.

But when area pantries can serve that many people in a week, she knew they needed a bigger solution.

That’s how, with the approval of Father Dave Harris, pastor, and the parish finance council, St. Albert made a one-time gift from general parish funds in early September.

The gift, totaling $50,000, was divided amongst five of the local food pantries it already helps support. The St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry received $20,000; Schuhmann Social Service Center received $13,000; Sister Visitor Center received $8,000; St. Ignatius Food Pantry received $5,000; and Eastern Area Community Ministries received $4,000.

The parish had one stipulation: The money must be spent on food.

Legel said she hopes St. Albert’s $50,000 donation calls other parishes to action.

“Could we challenge other parishes to either volunteer at a food pantry or donate to one?” she asked. “Because if they see there’s nothing out there and they see the clientele, they might get the word out and start something up at their parish.”

St. Albert parishioners volunteer at each of the ministries that received part of the donation, Legel said, so they see the need firsthand.

“My brother volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry and he was just telling me that their shelves were bare,” she explained. “No meat, no fish, and so they really didn’t have anything to give the clients.”

Jim Thomas, a St. Albert parishioner who has volunteered at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry for around eight years, said donations have decreased and the need has increased.

“The need is up 20, 30 percent. We used to put 10 to 12 items in a bag” to give to clients, Thomas explained. “We don’t have 10 to 12 to give anymore.”

John Bowling, a Holy Trinity Church parishioner who volunteers at the food pantry alongside Thomas, said there’s a constant need.

“It’s not just at the holidays, it’s a constant thing,” Bowling said. “We got 18,000 pounds from USDA last month but just 12,000 pounds this month. We’re down to two meats where we used to have three or four.”

Denis Roux, a St. Albert parishioner who volunteers at Sister Visitor and Eastern Area Community Ministries, said the need is great in those agencies, too.
“The needs are getting dire,” he said. “We’re helping but we’re helping with diminished resources.”

He said that since July, he’s noticed dwindling food supplies. When he started volunteering at Sister Visitor in April, the freezer had a variety of meat. Now, they’re running out before the end of the month.

“Foods like canned pork, canned chicken, we could give a couple of each,” he said. “Then at the beginning of summer we could give one each. Then in July we ran out.”

And, he said, the number of clients has increased.

“The lines for people coming in have gotten longer. I remember one day when I came in, there were already 20 people outside in line.”

The St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry on St. Vincent De Paul’s campus was running out of food the morning of Sept. 15. “We have mac n’ cheese,” volunteer Jim Thomas said. “We need everything else.” (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

Bernadette Cooper, a St. Albert parishioner and the school’s former principal, has seen the same issues at the Schuhmann Center where she volunteers.
The center mostly serves families with children, she noted.

“Last month we gave out 57 food orders and that was one of the highest it’s ever been,” she said in a recent phone interview. “We give them to families with children. There was a total of 209 children who got food from us.”

Alongside food staples, the center likes to include treats in the food orders, too, she said, things like pancakes and maple syrup.

“They’re regular kids and regular families,” Cooper said. “They like sweets and treats.”

Cooper said the center receives food every week, but it’s surprising how quickly it goes.

“We definitely have a need for more food. For example: cereal. You get a big box that’s full of cereal boxes. There’s 10 in there and those go in a day. We give them two boxes so that’s five people.”

Thomas, standing next to bare shelves at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, said he hopes other parishes in the archdiocese step up, too, asking, “Can you all meet this challenge as St. Albert did?”

Legel said it’s important to get all hands on deck.

“We’re really serious about this. We’re trying to be disciples of Christ; we’re trying to serve our fellow brothers and sisters who are struggling right now. Everybody pitches in and helps. That’s the Christian side of it.”

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