Look around. You may not see them, as you fill your grocery cart or wait for an extra-large latte, but more than 20 percent of our New York City neighbors have difficulty affording food.
Families with children fare worse: A full 39 percent of parents and children in New York City struggle to find grocery money.
St. Augustine’s Food Pantry, located at 1168 Franklin Avenue in the Bronx, is just one facility that distributes food to New Yorkers in need and it serves as a vital link in the Feeding Our Neighbors (FON) network. A close group of parishioners from the former parish, who now attend Our Lady of Victory on Webster Avenue, humbly run the pantry and serve their hungry neighbors. The pantry is open Monday mornings from 10 AM to noon and Thursday evenings from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM.
On a recent Monday morning, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of New York, joined Father George Stewart, pastor of St. Augustine-Our Lady of Victory Parish, for a visit to the St. Augustine Food Pantry. Volunteers gathered in prayer at the 8:30 a.m. Daily Mass held in the former rectory and recited the Rosary for guests who would soon seek assistance. Monsignor Sullivan joined them in prayer and shared gratitude for the vital service they provide to the community.
Outside, a time weathered statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary stands on a hill, watching over the space. Her image gentle and strong at once, she stands next to a worn statue of St. Francis of Assisi, welcoming guests who formed a line alongside the St. Augustine Terrace Apartments. The apartments are part of Catholic Homes, a Catholic Charities of New York and Archdiocese joint endeavor that provides affordable and supportive housing on underutilized Church properties.
As the line formed outside, the 20-member volunteer team went to work inside unloading fresh and bulk food items from the delivery containers outside. They stocked the pantry shelves and prepared for their clients. At 10:00 a.m., the team welcomed their first visitors. Volunteers, checked clients in and helped them fill their bags with shelf-stable milk, frozen chicken, canned vegetables, rice and other staples. Many of the people in need, were disabled, elderly or struggling working families. For those who were not already registered with SNAP or in need of other assistance, Catholic Charities Feeding Our Neighbors (FON) staffers were on-hand to provide one-on-one consultations to get guests registered for benefits and to provide additional assistance, such as referrals or supplemental materials.
“The volunteers are like a family here at St. Augustine’s Pantry. They are the true living Bible,” she said. “They pray together, eat together and feed the community.”
The volunteers look up to Marva Crocker, the beloved “mother” of the group. Crocker, a retired schoolteacher, has been at St. Augustine’s parish for over 40 years. “Everyone holds their place here, but Marva is very well respected and a leader of the group. She is the only one who volunteered to work on our computer system. She is for sure a woman of faith,” said Salerno.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
“My mission as a Program Manager for Feeding Our Neighbors is to empower our pantries and soup kitchens to feed communities in the Bronx, Hudson Valley, Manhattan and Staten Island,” said Maria Salerno.
“The biggest part of our funding is spent on milk, oats/cereals and proteins. Milk is the number one requested food,” she added. (Pantries need dry milk packets, shelf-stable milk—including regular dairy, soy, almond and rice milk—and nutritional beverages such as Boost, Ensure and Carnation Instant Breakfast.) The Feeding Our Neighbors program along with partners like ShopRite and Goya Foods, help to provide a steady flow of these goods.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan just put out a call for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to help replenish food panties and soup kitchens. “We need to feed the hungry in the name of Jesus, and that is a high honor and call. We need to make sure that none of our neighbors are ever turned away
when they look to the church for help,” the Cardinal said.
Ms. Salerno points out that ,“In giving, you pray twice, and get back threefold what you give. It also adds to your own good health and wellness.”
Click HERE to find out how you (as an individual or part of a store or company) can donate food or service.