FAIRFIELD, Ky. — The Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., took its St. Vincent de Paul Outreach Ministries on the road with a new mobile food pantry.
On its maiden trip Oct. 4, the Bread for Life mobile pantry — an outgrowth of the ministries’ Bread for Life brick-and-mortar pantry — took food donations to the parking lot of St. Michael Church in Fairfield, Ky., where clients in need could pick up donations.
In all, the 35-foot RV intends to visit 11 sites in rural Nelson County every three weeks. Gutted and re-fitted with shelves and four refrigeration units, the RV is stocked with food supplied by Feeding America, local grocery stores, St. Joseph parishioners and different community partners.
The shelves and refrigerators hold meat, fresh fruit, produce, non-perishable items and even cat and dog food, said Christine Hovan, who serves as executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Outreach Ministries.
While the pantry is a ministry of St. Joseph, the effort involves many more in the community — including parishioners from the churches where the pantry stops. Among those churches are St. Michael in Fairfield, St. Monica Church in Bardstown, St. Gregory Church in Cox’s Creek and St. Catherine Church in New Haven.
The pantry also stops at Nazareth Villages, a residence for seniors, on the grounds of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth motherhouse. Hovan anticipates doubling the number of families served outside of Bardstown each month to approximately 150.
She said all the sites provide volunteers for the day and space to park the RV. “Everyone said yes. It was a resounding yes,” said Hovan during a recent interview aboard the pantry. “It’s such a good thing to do. It’s the kind of community Nelson County is.”
Father Terry Bradshaw, pastor of St. Joseph, said the support the mobile pantry has received shows the “outreach ministry is not just a one-parish act, but really a whole community effort.”
“The poor belong to all of us, therefore everyone is invited to contribute,” he said.
Sandy Rogers and Barbara Myers, parishioners of St. Michael in Fairfield, volunteered Oct. 4, the pantry’s first visit to St. Michael.
While waiting for their first clients to arrive, they discussed their service. Rogers said she recently retired after 45 years in the healthcare field and finally had some spare time to donate.
“My goal was, when I retired, to get more involved with my church. It’s been a blessing. This (parish) is my family and I want to do everything I can. It gives you a wonderful feeling in here,” said Rogers, placing a hand over her heart.
The need for a mobile pantry became apparent during the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic 18 months ago, said Hovan.
A grant from Catholic Charities of Louisville enabled St. Joseph to open a satellite location of Bread for Life in New Haven, she said. She’d heard from a resident of New Haven that there was a great need for food in that area.
Shortly after, another satellite pantry opened in Boston, Ky. When she started hearing from individuals in Bloomfield, Ky., about the need for a pantry, Hovan said she knew something different had to be done.
The idea for the mobile pantry was born. Thanks to a Bardstown family, who prefers to remain anonymous, an old RV was purchased and re-fitted at the cost of $25,000. “They like to put a firm foundation under a project and let it take off,” said Hovan.
The same family also is paying for the cost to operate the mobile pantry for a year — about $35,000 including the cost of food, fuel, insurance and payroll for a driver. Most of the food used to stock the mobile pantry comes from the brick-and-mortar in Bardstown, however, Hovan said she’s purchasing extra food at a nominal cost in the event the need is greater than she’s anticipating. “No one will be turned away,” she said.
The project was made possible, too, with the help of St. Joseph parishioners and members of the Bardstown community, she said.
“We’re excited. I have a plan and a vision in my head,” said Hovan.
Father Bradshaw hailed the mobile pantry as an “innovative idea.”
“It indicates creativity and effort to create something new and different and taking the risk beyond what’s convenient,” he said. “I’ve been appreciative of the support given from the parish and community.”
To learn more about the Bread for Life pantry and how to volunteer, contact St. Vincent de Paul Outreach Ministries 502-348-9752.