Charities programs provide essential food for needy Print this post

By Bob Reddy (Florida Catholic)


This summer brought new beginnings and new opportunities for healthy meals for the clients of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice at locations in Sarasota and Arcadia.

Nutrition center reopens

At Bethesda House in Sarasota, a drop-in community center for people living with HIV/AIDS, the nutritional center aspect of the program reopened on July 3 to provide healthy, high-protein food for more than 250 clients.

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc.

Program Director Colleen McMenamin explained that the repurposed nutritional program is the result of a zoning issue that took more than six months to resolve. The closure forced clients to get their needed nutrition from other locations, but the replacement could not provide the same support structure as Bethesda House.

Colleen McMenamin, Program Director for Bethesda House, a Catholic Charities program that helps people with HIV/AIDS in Sarasota, points out some of the food that is distributed to the clients.

“This was a great burden on these low-income clients who had no place to receive the high-protein and fresh nutritious food they need to remain healthy,” McMenamin explained. “Receiving good nutrition is crucial and for a time we were not available to provide any. We are back and doing what we do best, providing services with love, compassion, dignity and respect.”

Bethesda House clients were offered the use of the Caritas food pantry for non-perishable items and could pick up food at a near-by Baptist church. Through the generosity of Catholic parishes, donors and community partners, Bethesda House also distributed grocery cards on a bi-weekly basis to clients so they could purchase fresh produce and protein.

While the repurposed nutritional center can no longer serve hot meals, the compromise allows the clients to once again have a one-stop place to meet all of their needs.

In operation for 27 years, Bethesda House was established to provide a safe place where people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS can receive care and acceptance in a society when there is little community support. In addition to the nutritional center, services include a clothing closet, laundry and shower facilities, support groups, individual and family counseling, case management, transportation assistance, job referral, and linking to medical services.

McMenamin said the change required by the city to the nutritional center necessitated some adjustments to the program, however, the key is that everyone is getting the food that they need from one safe location. “Everyone has had to adjust, but we are back in business and moving forward because the need didn’t go away, it is something we deal with each day.”

Filling the summer nutrition gap

At Casa San Juan Bosco, a Catholic Charities farmworker housing project in Arcadia, a new summer food program served a different purpose: to ensure families can feed their children during the summer school break.

All Faiths Food bank served a hot meals to residents at the Catholic Charities Casa San Juan Bosco farm worker community in Arcadia during the summer months.

With an arrangement with All Faiths Food Bank and the Sarasota County Schools Food and Nutrition Services Summer Feeding Program, free lunches were provided for the residents and their children four days per week starting in early June and lasting through the end of July.

“This was an important option for the families who struggle to provide food for their children when school is out,” explained Catholic Charities District Director Andy Herigodt. “During the school year, this is less of a concern. However, when summer comes, families must make difficult choices. The response to the food program has been wonderful and a special partnership has been forged.”

The hot meals were delivered and the families were served in the pavilion adjacent to the soccer field, basically at the center of the community. There, two people from All Faith Food Bank served the hot food as mothers with children of all ages enjoyed what was offered.

“This is wonderful. The food is great,” said one smiling young boy as he ate some chicken.

Sylvia Zamora, of All Faith’s Food Bank, said this program is known as a “Summer Break Spot: Friends. Food. Free. All Summer Long,” and is offered at key locations where it is known there is a high concentration of children who receive assisted meals at their schools. Each day more than 80 people were served at Casa San Juan Bosco. “There was a definite need. We are happy to be able to come out into the community and make a difference.”

All Faiths Food Bank also provided a Take Home Food program at Casa San Juan Bosco this summer. At both community centers, a large box with bags of food was available for the children to bring home with them after their summer camp. The bags included nutritional snacks that have essential protein and vitamins.

Throughout the school year, the Casa San Juan Bosco aftercare program provides snacks for the children. Additional afterschool and weekend food programs take place throughout the Diocese. For example, in Collier County, the Catholic Charities offices are collecting supplies for the Weekend Power Pack Food Program for homeless elementary students. Each month, a total of 1,000 individual sized packs of ravioli, mac-n-cheese and fruit cups are needed and then distributed.

To learn more about the work of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., or how to help, please visit

Print this entry