Not long after sunrise on Saturday, May 16, 2020, volunteers at the St. Michael Parish Food Pantry in Wauchula started filling boxes with a variety of fresh, refrigerated and frozen food in preparation for a busy morning.
Vehicles were lined up by 7 a.m., about 30 minutes before the scheduled opening and less than two hours later more than 250 families (or about 1,000 people) had been helped.
Sister Maria Madre de le Alborada Quizhpe, Servant of the Lord the Virgin of Matara (SSVM), is in charge of the food pantry and does a weekly assessment of available food and must decide how much goes into each box based on the previous week’s number. In just a few weeks, the food pantry has handed out more than five times the pre-pandemic amount, a trend that shows no signs of ending soon.
On May 16, 2020 Bishop Frank J. Dewane saw firsthand the good work being done at St. Michael Parish. The Bishop did not hesitate to jump in to assist on the assembly line, packing boxes right where Sister Alborada most needed him.
The food pantry is restocked thanks to the direct assistance of two local food banks (Feeding Tampa Bay and All Faiths Food Bank), as well as through the support of local grocers and farmers, several Diocesan Parishes and resources are augmented by weekly bulk rice and bean deliveries from Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc.
Each contribution is sorted by another group of volunteers earlier in the week to make the Saturday morning routine go smoothly. Everyone helping lives locally and knows about the need in the community.
The boxes move down the packing line at a breakneck pace as vehicles pull into the driveway, trucks or tailgates open, and boxes of food are loaded. Some vehicles pick up items for elderly neighbors or those without vehicles.
When Bishop Dewane finished his shift, he took time to thank everyone for their hard work. The Bishop remarked that he was also impressed by their dedication to come out each week to volunteer to do this hard work, not just for the Parish, but for the community as a whole. “Well done!”
Each vehicle coming through the line is surveyed to learn how many people are in the household and also to ensure that the families are using all of the offered food. Sister Gema Ruiz, SSVM, said that to a person, the food is much appreciated and needed.
“They say that whatever is not needed immediately is shared with elderly neighbors or other needy friends and family,” Sister Gema explained. “That is good to hear. We are pleased nothing is going to waste.”
Because the Parish is so far from the main food banks, the pantry must pay to retrieve most of the food, adding a tremendous expense. While necessary, this is beginning to impact the other assistance programs, Sister Gema explained. The Parish offers emergency financial support for unexpected expenses, an area where demand is also beginning to increase.
Sister Alborada explained that the impact of the food pantry on the community cannot be underestimated. The food provided to families, many with several children, gives them one less expense they need to worry about when money is tight. “They have children to feed, but they also have other bills to pay. We help to ensure they don’t need to make a choice between their children and some other expense.”
If you would like to help the St. Michael Parish food pantry, you can send money to St Michael Parish, c/o Food Pantry, 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula, FL 33873, or call 863-773-4089. The Diocese of Venice is also providing an online platform. Please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/ways-to-give/parish-donations-online/ and select St. Michael Parish in the drop-down box (please disable your pop-up blockers).