A spirit of unity and discipleship is sweeping through communities to help people in need of assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, and parishioners throughout the Diocese are among those stepping up to fill in the gaps when layoffs, unemployment and social distancing result in a greater need for food assistance.
Parishioners at St. Joseph Parish in Lancaster formed the Catholic Neighborhood Network to address requests for food assistance in the local community.
Anthony Marcavage, facilitator of the effort, said it “gives the parish an opportunity to put into practice the call for intentional discipleship, which our pastor, Father Allan Wolfe has been particularly focused on.”
Volunteers started out with phone calls to parishioners – 800 inquires in all – to ask about needs for pastoral care, grocery purchase and/or delivery and financial issues.
“We found that people were incredibly grateful for the outreach, and then we decided to go beyond the parish, working with a neighborhood group to identify needs and help them,” Marcavage said.
In its first week, the Catholic Neighborhood Network collected, donated and distributed packages that included non-perishable items and homemade food. Delivery efforts maintain social distancing guidelines, with volunteers encouraged to wear masks and directed to drop the packages at the door step when making the delivery. The group also plans to collaborating with the Lancaster Housing Authority on efforts to share food with residents in need.
“I see us having two purposes. If people come and say they have little or no food, I want the group to immediately be able to respond and give them three to five days’ worth of meals. Secondly, we want to connect them to established food pantries and other groups in the community to meet their sustaining need,” Marcavage said.
He expressed his gratitude for the volunteers, who have stepped up in stewardship of time, talent and treasure. “I am really amazed by the group. Some are putting together groceries or delivering them. Others are helping with doing pastoral check-in phone calls,” he said. “Fortunately, the needs have not been overwhelming yet in our neighborhood, but we have a wealth of people coming forward and raising their hand, and standing ready to help.”
St. James Parish in Lititz, parishioners are collaborating with faith communities in the Warwick Ministerium to offer weekend meals for those who need them.
As an extension of its Summer Lunch Program for students in the Warwick School District, the ministerium has been hosting a Saturday-morning drive-through food distribution from the Lititz Church of the Brethren. More than 300 bags of food are shared weekly, made possible by the generosity of the group’s members, including parishioners from St. James.
The ministerium coordinates an e-mail to faith communities early each week with a menu of items to purchase for the upcoming weekend distribution. Rose Barnas, Director of Religious Education at St. James Parish, helps to coordinate among parish members.
“The goodness of people is very evident. This situation we’re in is difficult, but there are so many blessings to be found. I can look and see how God is taking something that is very difficult and making good out of it. You see the generosity of people in giving, in their prayers,” she said.
At the Church of the Brethren’s drop-off site, people give their donations straight from their vehicles to ensure proper distancing. Inside, volunteers unpack and sort the items for pick-up the next day.
“I know our parishioners are donating to the ministerium’s effort,” Barnas said. “They tell me they’re looking for the weekly meal e-mail on Tuesday mornings. They’re helping as volunteers at the Church of the Brethren, too.”
“The ministerium opens the food distribution to anyone. We don’t qualify people. We tell them, ‘If you need food, we have it. Come get what you need,” Barnas said.
The program has distributed more than 300 meals each weekend, including an Easter meal of ham, potatoes, rolls and Easter candy, as well as items for tuna noodle casserole and tacos or burritos.
Collaboration with the Warwick Ministerium is not new for St. James Parish, which faithfully serves as “home base” for the ministerium’s weekly summer lunch programs that serve 350 hot meals in two local parks twice a week while school is out.
“Our parishioners and the people in the greater community are very much used to working with the ministerium, and with the local food bank,” Barnas said. “The weekend meal program is just something additional for our circumstances. There are people in our community who are in a situation they’ve never been in before with layoffs and unemployment, and fortunately there are people willing to help.”
“This is tough right now for everyone,” Barnas said. “One of the most difficult things is not being able to gather at church. In this parish, when things happen, people congregate in the parish and come to be with their parish family. We don’t have that now. We are also longing for the Eucharist. What we’re doing right now is offering temporal food, which is important, but they’re longing for spiritual food, too. All we can do is help them, and pray.”
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness