November 17, 2016
By Sandra Lincoln, SHCJ
On our drive to Divine Mercy Parish in South Philadelphia, Sister Barbara Foy explained to me that the Food Pantry was started when Father Mike Oliveri was the pastor. He had invited Holy Child Sisters Mary Sullivan, Barbara Foy, Nora Sweeney, and Jane Dawley to find a way to help those in the neighborhood that were in need of food. The Pantry was founded in 2011.
Upon entering the parish rectory’s garage, we saw stacks of boxes, each filled with canned goods and staples, donated by United Way. In the weeks to come, the contents of these boxes will be given out every Tuesday and Friday morning at the Pantry. We continued into the rectory’s basement and through a small room with shelves of canned food donated by a Shop Rite in South Philadelphia and other agencies.
Sister Barbara explained to me that “today is a good day.” She and her helpers had fresh food to distribute — avocados, potatoes, and oranges as well as frozen broccoli. This food was donated by SHARE, the Archdiocesan program which has contracted with Divine Mercy to supply fresh fruits and vegetables once a month. Rosemarie Downs, a pantry helper (whose husband attended St. James School — where our Sisters had taught) brought in several large bags of donated Panera Bread. With the help of Jane Dawley, SHCJ, and Patricia (Pat) Tirrell, SHCJ, the loaves are individually bagged, and the Pantry opened its door. A line of hopeful men and women are waiting.
Sister Barbara sat at a table and called out, “Come on in, Mary*. How are you today?” Mary responded with a smile, “Good morning, ladies.” She signed in, giving her name and the number of people living in her household. Barbara shared, “We have frozen broccoli and avocados today.” Mary beamed as she opens her bag to receive the vegetables. When she saw the bread, her face again lit up as she chose a loaf. A bag of non-perishables, a bag of potatoes and a bag of oranges are added. She said good-bye and exited the tiny room by the same door she entered.
Next to enter was Lise*. Sister Barbara greeted her by name and Lise selected items from today’s food choices and wished us a good afternoon. Then came Henry to whom Barbara said, “Take two broccoli – you have a lot of people at home.” Then she told Rosemarie and Sister Pat, “Give him two bags of potatoes and two of oranges, too. There are children at his house.” Added to his bag are two loaves of bread and a bag of canned and boxed food. Henry* was on his way, smiling and wishing us a nice weekend. Several old-timers asked if there will be a turkey this Thanksgiving. “We hope so,” Sister Barbara responded, and then asked them to pray that donations will come in for Thanksgiving.
And so the morning continued until all are served — one by one — in this tiny room. Except for two or three, Sister Barbara greeted each person by name. At noon, the door closed and Sister Barbara and her helpers began to bag food for next week. Later in the afternoon, Sister Barbara planned a trip to South Philadelphia to get the donated canned goods from Shop Rite. Every month, the Pantry serves 1,600 men, women and children.
As I said good-bye and drove home with Sister Margaret Mary Bell, our photographer for the day, I reflected on the genuine smiles most people gave us as well as the many struggles they face.
Each is a blessing to us, and we to them. I have to find a way to help get those turkeys!
*Names were changed for this article.