Chris Hruz was looking forward to a mission trip to El Salvador with classmates from St. John Vianney High School for a junior year service project.
“We were to build houses, help at a child care center and do different things each day for two weeks,” Chris said.
After that trip was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his mom called to drop off food at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference food pantry at St. Joseph Parish in Manchester and asked if she and her children could help. Extra hands were welcome due to increased needs, so Chris got the chance to work with a home mission — helping people in need of food.
He lugged heavy bags and boxes of food to his mom’s minivan, then dropped them off on doorsteps, including the home of a young couple with four children. The husband is on furlough from his job due to the pandemic, and the couple called the parish for assistance. The call was referred to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference, and a member of the conference contacted the family to get details about their situation. Usually, that’s handled in a home visit, but it’s being conducted by phone now.
The outreach to an increasing number of people in need by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is just one part of the response by the Catholic community in St. Louis. Food donations still are needed because of the higher demand.
The Society is starting to see an increase of people asking for help and expects a greater increase in coming weeks, hoping that more Catholics are inspired to volunteer as the face of Christ in the community. Many of the requests for assistance are due to layoffs and furloughs, said Julie Komanetsky, director of program services. For some, it’s the very first time they are needing help to support themselves or their family, Komanetsky said.
Neighbors in Need
The Society continues to help clients — referred to as neighbors in need— especially with food, shelter and utilities. The Society has distributed $126,000 in food vouchers and gift cards to help those in need, said Gena Bast of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul/Archdiocese of St. Louis.
St. Vincent de Paul food pantries are operating with safety procedures such as wiping donated items with disinfectant cloths. While some are experiencing shortages, particularly meat, most pantries appear to have enough supplies. Many Vincentians will make porch drop-offs to accommodate those who can’t pick up the food from a pantry.
Catholic Charities of St. Louis provided $20,000 in gift cards to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to distribute through their food pantries in areas of greatest need.
Bryan and Leslie Robb of St. Joseph Parish prepared the food bags that Chris delivered with his mom, Anne, and sister, Mary, a senior at Cor Jesu Academy. The parish conference is serving about 20 families a month, twice the usual number. And it continues to assist Covenant House Missouri and a St. Vincent de Paul food pantry in St. Louis.
While Chris switched to volunteering for a home mission, parishioners upped their support of it.
The Robbs noted that their conference is fortunate because of that response, coming at a time when they’re missing donations from a canceled postal-worker food drive. The Knights of Columbus at St. Joseph Parish organized a food drive and collected more than 500 pounds of nonperishable food in the first three weeks. Prayer and Bible study groups at the parish and individuals also have donated food and other items, including toilet paper and (personal protection) masks.
Scoring 1,533 items
Bishop DuBourg High School soccer player Addy Niethe is among athletes disappointed due to the loss of their season due to COVID-19. But the team put their organizing skills together April 21 to score for the community.
A food drive sponsored by the soccer team filled four vehicles in just one hour April 21. The food drive supported Affton Christian Food Pantry. Team members, led by coach Steve Bettlach, accepted items dropped off at the school parking lot, spread out as they were on the field for the start of a soccer game. Several seniors helped the food pantry sort, count and box 1,533 items.
“Our team didn’t hesitate to help when asked,” Niethe said. “DuBourg is all about community. They pulled through. It felt really good knowing that a family will have food to eat for a week.”
Eve Blandes, executive director of the Affton Christian Food Pantry at St. John Paul II Parish, said the items were needed. On average, the pantry serves about 240 families, but now it’s increased. As warmer months approach, the numbers typically decrease because laborers return to work, but that’s not happening.
St. Catherine Laboure Parish in Sappington and St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in St. Louis have suspended their food pantries and are directing donations and people seeking help to the Affton Christian Food Pantry. Of the 15 member churches of the pantry, six are Catholic parishes.
The pantry has a drive-up service to maintain social distancing.
A steady stream of need
The Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service food pantry also distributes food drive-through style. Clients stay in their vehicles, pop their trunks and volunteers load the food.
“The demand for food continues to grow, as we are hearing from a steady stream of people who in different times would not need our services at all,” said Pam Struckhoff, executive director of the Annual Catholic Appeal funded agency. “We have families who were just making ends meet and had not reached out for services. Then their place of business closed and they were laid off or their children’s schools closed and their income was gone.”
The weeks of waiting for unemployment pushed them into a food crisis, she said. “We are seeing executive chefs, administrators, health care professionals who do not work in hospitals, construction and landscape workers and many more who worry because they have never had to ask for help and feel like there is someone more deserving of the help than themselves.”
Donors can drop off nonperishable food and personal care items in shopping carts outside our front doors. The center’s Amazon wish list is expanded so people do not have to leave their homes to donate.
Serving God’s children
Denise Huber is on furlough from her job managing travel arrangements for American Express employees. The parishioner of St. Bernadette in Lemay saw it as an opportunity to volunteer filling bags of food at Feed My People, which has 11 Catholic parishes among its Christian congregations that work together to give people in need hope for a brighter future.
“I’m so lucky in my lot in life that I want to give back,” Huber said. “It makes me feel closer to God, it just fulfills me. You know, Jesus always helped the poor. It’s just part of faith. Continue to give back.”
Stephanie Berberich, a staff member and parishioner at Annunciation Parish in Webster Groves, said people of all faiths continue the mission “in serving God’s children, especially people in need.”
Feed My People is stretching limited supplies to meet the recent rise in demand for food and personal care items at its facilities in Lemay and High Ridge. As one of St. Louis’ largest food pantries, it helps about 375 families per week who have lost jobs or live in poverty. Demand at area food banks is up about 30 percent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the St. Louis Area Food Bank.
Precautions are in place to guard against spreading COVID-19, including pre-selecting and bagging groceries and personal care items, as clients visit twice monthly to fill the gaps not met through unemployment benefits and food stamps. Feed My People’s two thrift stores, whose proceeds help fund the purchase of needed supplies, are closed during the pandemic.
A truck filled with more than a ton of donated food arrived April 22 at Marygrove in Florissant, one of four Catholic Charities of St. Louis federated agencies that are benefiting from the large donation. Good Shepherd Children & Family Services, Queen of Peace Center and St. Patrick Center also received the donated items.
The large donation was organized by chef and restaurant consultant Rex Hale in cooperation with STL Foodworks; Jack Whisnant of Rain Crow Ranch in Doniphan, Mo.; and Lanter Distributing.
Included were three varieties of beans, parsley, mixed apples, Brussels sprouts, radishes, cooked corned beef, eggs, ground pork, lettuce and more.
Catholic Charities President Theresa Ruzicka helped load donations at STL Foodworks. “Pulling together a donation of this magnitude was a labor of love and an exercise in generosity,” Ruzicka said. “All of our agencies are busy finding ways to safely meet growing needs due to the COVID-19 crisis. Having strong community partners like these helps us serve even more people, including those who are finding themselves needing assistance for the first time in their lives.”
She added that Catholic Charities must “keep caring for those living in our facilities, and so it’s so great to partner with others in the community who are so generous and thinking of us at this time.”
The food will be used to prepare meals for residential clients at the four agencies, as well as walk-in clients at St. Patrick Center.
>> Kind acts in response to need
Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service
has seen kind acts in response to the need caused by job losses in the
community and many thanks from recipients.
• The center was
contacted by a man whose daughter was a recipient of its services last
year. He had an online estate sale and raised $500 for the care service.
He purchased cereal with the funds and told staffers that his daughter
was doing great. The help she received moved her toward a new beginning.
One of the center’s projects collects funds and food for homeless
people who have to be quarantined. The center brings the food to them. A
donor brought the center a check in honor of her late brother who had
passed away in 2015. He had been homeless, and Sts. Joachim and Ann Care
Service helped get him housed. The donor was thankful her brother had a
place to live while on hospice care.
• A donation came from the Literacy Initiative, a nonprofit run by a high school students, to be used on food for children.
A family that came their first time for assistance was given a cake
along with other items. Though the center was unaware, the oldest son in
the family was celebrating a birthday and they did not have the money
get him a cake. The cake was exactly the kind he had wanted. God sure
does work in mysterious ways.
Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service is supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal
>> How to help
Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Call Ryan Carney (314) 881-6003
email [email protected]
Catholic Charities of St. Louis
Call (314) 367-5500.
Affton Christian Food Pantry
Call (314) 580-3138
Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service
Call (636) 441-1302
Feed My People
Call Stephanie Berberich at (314) 631-4900, ext. 315
>> Job losses
A survey released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
April 28 finds 42% of nonelderly adults in families that lost work or
income because of the coronavirus outbreak reported that their families
were not able to pay the rent, mortgage, or utility bills; were food
insecure; or went without needed medical care in the prior month.
one-third (31%) of all nonelderly adults reported that their families
experienced these material hardships over the same time frame.
survey was conducted between March 25 and April 10 to examine the
effects of the coronavirus outbreak on families’ employment and ability
to meet basic needs.
Findings included that 41.5% of adults
reported that their families have lost jobs, work hours, or work-related
income because of the coronavirus outbreak. These losses were most
prevalent among families of Hispanic adults (56.9%) and adults with
incomes below poverty level (51.1%).