Food Pantry

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  [This feast trumps the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time]. According to the Ordo, it “celebrates a double anniversary.  In Jerusalem, Constantine erected a round church, the Anastasis, above the empty grave of Jesus, and a basilica, the Martyrium; in the square between the two churches, a shrine, Calvarium, marking the place of the crucifixion.  Dedicated in 335, they were destroyed by the Persians in 614.  The two churches were rebuilt by Patriarch Modestus of Jerusalem c. 626, but were later destroyed by the Muslims in 1009.  The present church of the Holy Sepulcher, rebuilt by the Crusaders, was dedicated in 1149.  Today also commemorated the discovery of the Lord’s cross by the empress, St. Helena (18 Aug.), in 320.”  The Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass is the same antiphon used on Holy Thursday for the beginning of the Paschal Triduum: “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.”  The Church emphasizes the glory of the Cross because it is through the Cross that we were saved, and it is through the Cross that Christ has gained eternal life for us.  The Cross, a symbol of love, hope and promise is a sign that Christ is with us always, even in the most difficult circumstances.  Let us rejoice in the great love Christ has for us and the great sacrifice he made on our behalf.  Let us ever glory in the cross of Christ.

The newly formed Saint John Paul II Choir will be singing for the first time this weekend at the 4:00 PM Saturday Mass.   At rehearsal this past Wednesday, choir members took time to reflect upon their ministry and also entered into discussion around the preference of rehearsal day and time, along with what might be the “designated Mass with choir.”   They decided that they would alternate singing between Saturday and Sunday Masses.  Rehearsals will take place on Wednesdays at 7:15 p.m.  If you were unable to be present for the first gathering of choir, you are still most welcome to join.        

Please note the flyer in today’s bulletin regarding the first meeting of the Saint John Paul II Rosary Altar Society on Thursday.  All women of the parish are most welcome to attend.

This week I would like to address the Saint John Paul II Food Pantry.  I would like to begin with a little bit of history as to how our three merged parishes reached out to the poor and the hungry in the past, and then share how our present Food Pantry evolved from some of that history.

Some of the ways in which Saint Matthew Parish engaged in outreach to the poor are:

  •  A second collection for the needy was taken up on the first Sunday of each month.
  •  Donations were sent to Partnership Center.
  • Food Baskets were prepared twice a year (for Thanksgiving and Christmas).  Parishioners donated items for the food baskets.
  • The Sharing Tree was also an avenue of outreach to the poor.
  • The Saint Matthew Boy Scout Troop had food drives, stored food at the parish hall, and were the ones responsible for distributing the food in whatever way they decided.

 

Saint John the Baptist Parish tended to the poor and hungry in the following ways:

  • Food collections took place on a monthly basis. Reminders were placed in the bulletin, often listing items that were particularly needed that month.
  • Food was stored first in the Church basement and then, later at the Parish Center.
  • When individuals called or came to the door needing food, they were taken care of by the parish secretary.
  • There was no pattern as to what time or day people would call or show up to request food.  Sometimes one or two people would show up a week for assistance, and not necessarily regularly, but simply as the need arose.  Others may have required help on more than one occasion.  
  • Nothing was advertised.  Sometimes people who came for food were referred to the church, and they happened to call Saint John the Baptist Parish. 
  • If there was ever a doubt or a question about assisting another’s request (believing “their story”), the secretary consulted with the Pastoral Administrator.
  • The requests and response to requests for food took place in a confidential manner.
  •  Another avenue of outreach was possible through a budget item: 5% tithing of Sunday parish income to the poor.  Each year, the funds were distributed to some of the diocesan Religious Communities, the Missions, Emmaus House, Mustard Seed House, Hidden Harvest, Partnership Center, special needs, etc.  Also, a portion was used to purchase gas cards, grocery gift cards, to have on hand for emergency needs.

 

Saint Josaphat Parish had the custom of having food on hand for those in need.

  • The food was supplied by parishioners through monthly collections.  Sometimes monetary donations were given to the parish for food.
  • At the annual Thanksgiving dinner, individuals attending were asked to bring canned food for the pantry.
  • There were reminders in the bulletin and sometimes suggestions were made as to what one might donate in a given month if the pantry was low on certain items.
  • The food was stored in a pantry in the basement of the Rectory.
  • The secretary filled requests of those who either showed up at the door or called ahead.  Requests each week were minimal. 
  • The secretary noted that it was very difficult going up and down the basement steps to the pantry to fill and carry several bags upstairs to individuals waiting for food.
  • When the offices were moved in 2013, food remained in the basement of the Rectory until a Food Pantry Committee was formed and a space was created for a new Food Pantry, much more highly organized than had been the case of one person basically meeting the needs of a few people a week.
  • Thus, in 2013, Saint Josaphat Parish createda new food pantry to be staffed by parishioners every Monday along with the last Thursday of the month between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
  • Food from the Rectory basement was transferred to a storage room off of the Meeting Room (of the Ed Center) and accessible through the Harrison Street entrance.
  •  The Food Pantry also received a substantial amount of food from the Carrollton Lions Club who had been storing their excess food (from their food drives) in a storage closet at Saint John the Baptist Center.
  • Individuals were teamed up and scheduled to work various days at the Food Pantry.  However, they began to get tired of just sitting there and waiting for people.  They were not getting that many requests for food, even though signs were posted on the Rectory door as to the location of the Food Pantry.
  • Action was taken to advertise the Food Pantry.  As a result of that action, there were too many people showing up for the volunteers to handle, let alone to keep up with the supply of food needed.  So, the days of operation were then reduced to two Mondays a month.  Those seeking assistance were only allowed to be serviced once a month.
  • As the Food Pantry Committee tried to keep up with the new demands for food, they tried various avenues of getting supplemental food donations (from places like Meijer, Save-a-Lot, etc.) as well as monetary donations.

Previous to the merger, all three parishes were involved in outreach to the poor and hungry in various ways.  Given that the Food Pantry was only in operation two days a month, there was always an unadvertised avenue for emergency food, should the situation arise, at the Parish Office Center. 

As of July 1, the Food Pantry became Saint John Paul II Food Pantry. 

  • Parishioners were encouraged to support the food pantry, and all donations of food were taken to the Food Pantry on Harrison Street.
  • Any monetary donations were turned into the parish.
  •  At the same time, the Carrollton Lions Club continued to store its excess food at the Parish Office Center.  They told the parish, should anyone need emergency assistance, to feel free to use some of that food.
  • During the month of August, our parish was approved to be a member of the Eastern Michigan Food Bank.  Three of the Food Pantry Committee members and two Staff members attended an informational and training session in Flint. 
  • It costs the parish $100.00 in membership fees to belong to this organization.
  • Because we belong to Eastern Michigan Food Pantry, we are able to order food from them online for a greatly reduced price.  There are different foods available on different days.
  • Thus, donations of both food and money are needed.  All monetary donations are made to the parish, and the parish is invoiced for the food that is ordered.
  • We have to be in compliance with the rules and regulations of Eastern Michigan Food Bank, one of which relates to the records we keep on individuals served by the Food Pantry along with the questions we are to ask them, and the other which regards a report we must turn in each month.  We were told that food could be stored in more than one place because we are all part of the same Food Pantry connected to the Food Bank. They also highly recommended that the Food Pantry only be in operation one day a month for various reasons.  Presently, we are continuing two days a month.
  • The Food Pantry Committee has regular meetings, the next being Thursday, November 13 at 6:00 p.m.  New members are welcome.

 

Thus, please understand that there is only one Food Pantry – Saint John Paul II Food Pantry - and that we are all working to serve the poor, but  also, please note that there will always be a need for emergency food at the Parish Office Center.  The first reason is that one cannot predict when a person may call or drop by and need immediate assistance.  If a person in real need comes on Tuesday, the day after food has been distributed, it would be very un-Christian to tell that person to come back in two weeks for food.  However, and more importantly, the second reason we need to have emergency food is that there has to be a caring, sensitive, confidential and anonymous manner in which to serve some individuals, especially our very own parishioners, in times of crisis (i.e. loss of a job, inability to both pay a utility bill and/or pay for groceries, etc.).  If I or one of my staff gets a personal call, we should be able to attend to that at once, and not have the person stand in a food line at the pantry.  If you have ever been in the situation in which you were really in need and did not know where to turn, and really had a hard time asking for help, but really felt secure in seeking that help in your own parish, then you know how sensitive a situation that is, and how important confidentiality is. 

One last note: it is really interesting, that in the midst of writing this very article, I received a phone call for emergency assistance for food.  We never really know when someone will reach out to us for help. Thank goodness we had some food at the Parish Office Center and that I was able get one of my staff members to take care of the situation.  

Let us continue to work closely together to assist our brothers and sisters in need.  Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.”

Blessings on your week!
Sister Chris Gretka, CSJ