With May just around the corner, this month’s JPIC Friar Focus highlights the beginning of a ministry to feed the hungry, by Fr. Paul Gabriel, OFM Conv. Friar Paul’s inspiration not only establishes a food pantry but also provides farm to table fresh food, for those struggling with food security. Fifty million Americans – 1 in 4 children – are not sure if they will have dinner this evening. A successful awareness-raising event at Duke Catholic Campus Ministry, a few years ago, was the screening of the movie, A Place at the Table. The Knights of Columbus even helped to fund a panel discussion where one of the women featured in the film spoke.
(Presented by JPIC Chairman, Fr. Michael Lasky, OFM Conv.)
JPIC Friar Focus: In his own words, Friar Paul Gabriel, OFM Conv.
At Blessed Sacrament Parish in Burlington, North Carolina, the “Little Portion Food Pantry,” and the “Garden of the Incarnation,” came about as a result of the feeling that we, as a parish community, needed to have a ministry that provided direct service to the poor and disenfranchised. The parish gave monetarily to various service organizations in the community but provided no visible direct service on a continual basis. I felt that as a Franciscan parish striving to live Franciscan ideals, we needed something visible to the external community addressing current needs with the parishioners providing direct service themselves.
The demographic in the community contained a high percentage of undocumented people without identification that limited their access to social services and excluded them from government assisted food pantries. Through prayerful discernment, I came up with the idea for the food pantry and contacted parishioners who I felt would be open to this ministry; the journey began.
I contacted Friar Greg Spuhler, OFM Conv. who at that time was working at a parish in Cary, NC in the same type of ministries. Friar Greg was a significant person in helping us to get off the ground, along with many other service providers in the area. The biggest obstacle in opening the food pantry was making sure that were in compliance with all the organizations that certified such outreach. We had dedicated parishioners that worked us through that process. After the food pantry began, one of the parishioners asked me what we were going to do with all the vacant land around the new church. I replied, “We are going to share it with the community…if we are generous to the People of God, God will not be outdone in His generosity to us.”
Even though we were struggling financially as a parish, I felt we still needed to share what we had. It was at that time I came up with idea for the garden so that we could provide our food pantry with fresh produce for those we served, which was limited to canned produce. I chose the name, “Little Portion Food Pantry,” based on the love St. Francis had for the Portiuncula and, “The Garden of the Incarnation,” was based on the foundational basis of the Incarnation in Franciscan spirituality.
This experience was extremely rewarding for all of us involved as well as challenging at times. Those who worked in distribution at the pantry learned much about how the poor struggle for basics and felt a sense of fulfillment when we were able to help struggling families. For me as a friar-pastor, it was extremely fulfilling to see our desire for a more JPIC focused parish come to fruition.
A year after we began these ministries, I changed assignments. These ministries have continued to grow and have served many. These are the most current statistics (March 2017) from the Little Portion Food Pantry:
Screening–136 Families; walk-ins -19.
Distribution – 135 Families, 300 adults, 252 children (532 individuals).
Nearly 9,500 lbs. of food distributed.
In addition on to canned food and dry goods we distributed the following: Panera Bread – 532 lbs. Carrots – 370 lbs. Produce – 95 lbs. Lettuce – 60 heads Eggs – 140 dozen Meat – 480 lbs Cheese – 60 packs Margarine – 60 lbs. Additional cereal – approx. 280 bags/boxes Sweet potatoes – 750 lbs. Blueberries – approx. 240 packs Obtained 1180 pounds of produce (sweet potatoes, carrots and blueberries) from SHFB at zero cost.
Stuff A Truck – Weekend (Mar 11/12) donations to this month’s collection totaled 1,248 lbs.
Additional items were donated prior to distribution.