Catholic Charities food pantries work to feed hungry
By Lisa Kochanowski
While many families are wrestling with trying to find money to buy their child the latest Xbox, Wii or iPhone, Catholic Charities is working hard to collect food donations to give out hearty and healthy food baskets to their clients for the holidays. Catholic Charities operates food pantries in South Bend and Auburn.
“We have a different menu each week made up of 15-20 pounds of food based upon family size. This usually includes about 15 items or enough food for four meals,” said Claire Coleman, the West Region administrator at Catholic Charities. “This might include two canned vegetables, one canned fruit, one canned meat such as tuna, canned beans, peanut butter and jelly, bread, frozen meat, pancake mix, boxed milk or dried goods, pasta or rice, pasta sauce and one or two fresh items such as vegetables, fruit, eggs, yogurt and cheese. We also will distribute personal care items such as toilet paper, shampoo and toothpaste when we have it available.”
Items inside the food pantry come from a variety of different sources. In South Bend, the pantry receives support through the United Way of St. Joseph County, PGE “People Gotta Eat” Initiative and the Emergency Food and Shelter Program. In Auburn, the agency is a member of the Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana and receives USDA commodities to supplement food donated by local community partners. Both agencies also rely on food drives from area churches, schools and businesses.
According to Patti Sheppard, RSVP director who works with the food pantry at the Catholic Charities office in Auburn, the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in their area donates fresh produce weekly. Items like salad bowls, chicken Caesar salad bowls, organic salads, potatoes, miniature cupcakes and stew meat have been donated.
“We are extremely fortunate to have great donations from active volunteers and organizations,” said Sheppard. Recently, an anonymous donor purchased fresh meat from a butcher and had it delivered to the food pantry.
Auburn also runs two unique programs through their food pantry: A winter coat distribution project and backpack distribution before school starts. Donations of coats, hats, mittens and scarves are given to needy families. Currently 552 coats, 319 hats, 449 pairs of mittens and 31 scarves have been distributed.
Everyone has a wish list and items like fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, butter, yogurt and cheese are a few items Coleman would love to be able to add to food baskets. Sheppard would like to see paper products and toiletries.
“These items are more expensive than purchasing canned goods but we feel it is important to include more nutritious foods in our menu so we try to always include what we can of fresh items,” said Coleman. Items like crackers, a cake mix and pudding are all treats the clients seem to enjoy receiving. Seniors enjoy getting coffee and tea. Cooking oil, sugar, flour and condiments such as mustard, mayonnaise, syrup and salad dressing are also popular items.
As families journey through the Advent season of giving and faith, it is important to remember those people hit by the hard economic times in the country. A person does not have to give hundreds of dollars; a simple collection of food around the neighborhood can help a family in need.
“We would love it if school, church or community groups would sponsor a food drive to benefit the clients of the Catholic Charities’ Food Pantry at any point throughout the year. Of course, we welcome and appreciate individual donations in support of the food pantry as well,” Coleman said.
“If you’re out shopping, get an extra bar of soap or bottle of shampoo,” said Sheppard. “Our clients are going out on job interviews and want to look their best, but can’t buy those simple items with food stamps.”