As car lines stretched around St. Joseph Church in Zell, Kathleen Coffman patiently waited as volunteers loaded boxes of food one by one into the cars on a recent rainy morning.
Coffman was grateful for the small bounty — a brown box loaded with fresh produce, milk and other dairy products, eggs and meat. The boxes were distributed to the community, regardless of need, via the USDA’s Farmers to Families program, with the help of St. Joseph parishioners and volunteers with Heavenly Hope, a faith-based, nonprofit organization serving people in Ste. Genevieve County.
She shared her appreciation that it helps farmers, as well as local distributors, such as Proffer Produce, a family-owned wholesale produce company in Park Hills, which was contracted to supply the food boxes handed out at St. Joseph.
“I know it’s a help and a blessing to a lot of people,” Coffman said. “I thank God for this.” Coffman, a member of Ste. Genevieve Parish, learned about the giveaway through Facebook.
Heavenly Hope has coordinated the distribution of more than 20,000 food boxes since the USDA program began in mid-May. The effort is funded through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, providing up to $4 billion in funding to purchase produce, dairy and meat products from American producers and work with food distributors throughout the country.
“The government recognized that when the coronavirus hit and the farmers were losing their produce, etc., because of the shutdown … now they have this food that’s going to waste and they’re not getting paid,” said Laura Selby, a dietitian and volunteer with Heavenly Hope. “It’s feeding people, but also supporting farmers.”
St. Joseph pastor Father Henry Purcell, who came to the parish in July, said he’s seen how the program has resonated with his parishioners. “Their concern was for these farmers who didn’t have a place to sell their crops anymore,” he said. “Some of them are farmers themselves and had a place to sell their crops, but knew others who didn’t. … God gives us the blessing to join in His work; He wants us to participate in that work.”
Heavenly Hope, which started in 2019 as a Christian, nonprofit organization to help people in need in Ste. Genevieve County, collaborates with several churches in the area for the Farmers to Families program. The organization draws volunteers from from numerous denominations, including parishioners from St. Joseph and Ste. Genevieve. Selby said community events like this help form deeper connections with people who might need assistance but don’t know where to turn.
People reach out directly, and the organization provides food and other necessities to others at their homes. “That can be the elderly, who can’t get out or are choosing not to get out for safety reasons, or people who have the virus and have to quarantine — we drop a box at their porch,” Selby said.
The organization hosts a weekly mobile soup kitchen, in which volunteers park a delivery truck in different neighborhoods and distribute hot soup and other non-perishable items. When the coronavirus hit, Heavenly Hope transitioned into other food efforts, later becoming involved in Farmers to Families.
Selby and others, including Heavenly Hope president Beth Giesler, said they can see the hand of God working through the efforts. “It’s all Him — we’re just the vessels,” said Giesler. “God sends people. And when somebody’s journey with us is over, He will send somebody different. We’ve now had people reach out for friends who aren’t comfortable reaching out. It’s turned into this big hug in our community.”
St. Joseph parishioner Mickey Flieg, who assists with the food box distribution, said, “I’m a big believer that God has His hand in this. To see all these volunteers jumping in and texting, saying, ‘I’m going to be there,’ it’s definitely God working.”
>> Farmers to Families
As part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, the USDA, under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, purchases and distributes agricultural products to people in need. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) partners with national, regional and local distributors, whose workforces have been impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels and other food service businesses, to purchase up to $4 billion in food from American producers of all sizes.
The program supplies food boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat products and a combination box of fresh produce, dairy or meat products. Distributors package these products into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need.
Nearly 113.5 million food boxes have been distributed across the United States since the program began in mid-May. There have been several rounds of purchases, with the most recent phase ending Oct. 31. The USDA has since extended the program. For more information, see https://bit.ly/2TSYli3
>> Heavenly Hope
Founded in 2019, Heavenly Hope is a faith-based, non-profit community outreach organization serving Ste. Genevieve County. The organization has a weekly mobile soup kitchen, along with other efforts to help neighbors in need connect with community resources.
The organization’s mission is to bring hope to people by sharing God’s love, teaching life skills and working hand in hand creating future goals to bring hope to any circumstance. For more information, see heavenlyhopefoundation.org. The organization also is on Facebook at @heavenlyhope2019.