Nonprofits step up to serve and spread Christmas cheer as need and hunger increase

Volunteers Mary Chapman, left, and Deren Griebenolw handed out fruit and dessert to clients during lunch hour at the Franciscan Kitchen, 748 Preston Highway, Dec. 10. Below, Clients line up to get a hot lunch Dec. 10. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Long lines at food pantries nationwide tell the story of growing hunger and need.

Fortunately, here in the Archdiocese of Louisville, parishes, nonprofits and individuals are working to alleviate the burden of hunger and spread some Christmas cheer, even as a pandemic has kept individuals apart.

In a U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey conducted in late October and early November close to 26 million people said they did not have enough food at least some of the time. The survey found there was a 30 percent increase in hunger since late February and early March when the pandemic hit.

And Kentucky was not spared.

According to the non-profit Feeding Kentucky, the state has the eighth-highest rate of food insecurity in the nation. Close to 700,000 individuals struggle to afford enough nutritious food.

Myya Little, right, who serves as food pantry coordinator at Sister Visitor Center, handed a bag of groceries to Dawn Burns at the center on 22nd and Market Streets Dec. 11 Because of safety and health concerns brought on by the pandemic, clients are no longer allowed inside the center. Instead bags of groceries are handed to them from under a plexiglass window. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Serving those in need

Sister Visitor Center, part of Catholic Charities of Louisville, is one of the agencies that has seen an increase in need — not only for food but for financial assistance. Darko Mihaylovich is Catholic Charities’ director of programs and has been serving as interim director of the center, 2235 W. Market St., since August when Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph Michele Intravia retired.

Mihaylovich said since March the center has fed more than 2,000 individuals from its food pantry. He noted the center didn’t close during the pandemic, but instead found ways to offer even more to needy individuals.

Volunteers have delivered groceries to elderly clients to prevent them from going out and being exposed to the coronavirus. In April, Sister Visitor started a box lunch program which ran until June. Close to 2,000 clients received lunches.

Mihaylovich said in a recent interview the typical need of the center’s clients has been aggravated by the pandemic. Recently, the center has been fielding up to 500 phone calls per week from individuals seeking financial assistance for rent and utilities, he said. Sister Visitor has provided financial assistance to more than 600 clients over the past few months. The center has never seen that level of need, he said. People have lost jobs or some have had hours cut, he noted.

“People are working, but they may have fewer hours. It’s hard to understand if you are not in the situation,” said Mihaylovich.

In a November meeting with officials from the Louisville Water Company, Mihaylovich said he learned that more than 15,000 households were at least two months behind in paying their water bills.

In addition to meeting day-to-day needs of its clients, this holiday season, Sister Visitor Center provided families with Christmas toys and winter clothing during its annual Christmas giveaway Dec. 14.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been serving the needy and the homeless throughout the pandemic as well. Its food pantry provides groceries each week and its Open Hand Kitchen serves lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Donna Young, director of conference affairs and volunteer services, said the society’s clients didn’t go without because of the pandemic. The Open Hand Kitchen, where guests are invited to a sit-down meal, started offering takeout meals, she said. The annual Thanksgiving dinner was prepared and handed out to-go on Thanksgiving day.

“It was heartbreaking because we gather as a family to greet our guests” on Thanksgiving day, said Young in a recent interview. The annual Christmas dinner will be served as a take out meal on Christmas Day as well, she said.

The food pantry has seen an increase in need too, Young said. It has been serving more than 200 families per week, which is an increase of about 50 families since the pandemic started.

“So many have lost jobs or had hours cut and children are at home and need more food,” said Young. I can’t imagine a child being hungry and we’re preventing some of that.” The pantry offers an “excellent” food choice including meat, eggs, cheese and milk, Young said.

SVDP’s annual Santa Shop was held Dec. 13 as a drive-through event on the SVDP campus at 1029 S. Preston St. More than 174 families, including close to 500 children, were served. The event provided Kroger gift cards and a few toys donated by Toys for Tots, said Young.

 

Parishes have also been a source of help as hungry individuals have turned to the church. St. John Paul II Church offers food from a Dare to Care mobile pantry once a month on its Hikes Lane campus. Ursuline Sister of Louisville Ruth Ann Haunz, who serves as coordinator of the pantry, said the number of families and individuals served by the year-old pantry has steadily increased. Over the past few months, it has been serving between 75 and 85 families in the diverse Hikes Point and Buechel neighborhoods.

Sister Haunz noted that the Dare to Care Kid’s Café, which was part of the parish’s Francis Center, had to close because of the pandemic, and that affected families in the area. The Francis Center is a ministry that offers health, education and recreational programs. The Kid’s Café, which opened in 2018, served hot meals to children from the neighborhood and St. John Paul II after they received help with homework three times a week. With the help of volunteers, including a group of Catholic high school students, the tutoring program has successfully transitioned to an online format, she said.

The pantry, which offers meat, fresh fruit, vegetables and non-perishable items, to last a few weeks, keeps many families afloat, Sister Haunz said.

“It’s heartwarming to see the gratefulness of families receiving food. Their eyes light up,” said Sister Haunz. “Dare to Care is wonderful in how they’ve made adjustments so people can still receive food.”

 

Franciscan Kitchen, like SVDP’s Open Hand Kitchen, didn’t close during the pandemic but pivoted to a takeout lunch. The kitchen serves mostly homeless individuals, but Chuck Mattingly, who serves as executive director, said, other individuals are fed as well.

“There are others living on the margin who need a little help each month,” he said during a recent interview. “We don’t ask any questions. If you walk through our doors you’ll be served. The kitchen serves a hot meal Monday through Friday and on Saturday, except for the first Saturday of the month.

On Christmas Day Franciscan Kitchen will hand out sack lunches and gift bags containing socks, underwear, T-shirts, blankets and toiletries. Mattingly anticipates the kitchen will serve between 400 and 600 individuals.

 

Shively Area Ministries has continued to serve individuals in poverty or crisis in the 40216 zip code during the pandemic. Gary Copeland, SAM’s executive director, said they had to change the way things were done, but are still available to the needy.

“People are desperately in need,” said Copeland in a recent interview. SAM offers financial assistance, food through a pantry and Meals on Wheels, counseling and educational programs. The pantry distributes food once a month to about 450 families.
Copeland said SAM hasn’t necessarily seen an increase in the number of people served by the pantry, but he’s noticed that the pantry seems to have become the main source of food for some.

“It’s the main source of their ability to eat. I’ve seen that more over the past few months,” said Copeland.
In addition to the normal allotment from the food pantry in December, SAM also provides the ingredients for a Christmas meal, including a whole chicken and dessert. During December, SAM also pays the electric bill for some families, so they can use the money they save for Christmas gifts.

“It allows parents to think of their kids and be the gift-giver and allows the kids to see the parent as a provider. It enhances the fiber of family,” said Copeland.

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