It is a Corporal Work of Mercy to feed the hungry, in the name of His Church. That is exactly what is being done each week at Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers.
The Spanish-language Catholic community has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic having endured massive layoffs across many job sectors including food service, hotels, farming and landscaping. The small food pantry has been assisting about 100 households weekly for the past seven weeks, where households consist of five to nine individuals.
Father Patrick O’Connor, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales (OSFS), Pastor of Jesus the Worker and San Jose Mission said, “there is really a tremendous need for food right now. Many don’t qualify for unemployment or stimulus checks, but they still need to feed their families.”
“We, their Church, are here for them,” Father O’Connor said. “As long as our resources last, we committed ourselves to not closing the food pantry, and to stocking it and running it ourselves. We had to reduce the days we give out food, but we have stayed open, and distribute more food to the needy than ever.”
On Tuesday mornings, the line for food begins to form long before the pantry opens. Each person with a heartbreaking story of unexpected hardship and worry about their small children. A few of those children were old enough to help carry the bags of food back to their vehicles while their mother or father carried their own heavy burdens with stoic resolve.
“We have no choice but to try to carry on,” a woman who would only identify herself as Fernanda explained. “I will make it last a long time. I don’t have any choice. God bless Father Patrick and the people here. We would be lost without the Church. This is where Jesus lives in our hearts and our community.”
Father O’Connor said the food in the pantry come from local donations, purchases from the Harry Chapin Food Pantry and from a fortuitous USDA grant that was approved only weeks before the pandemic crisis began.
“We had applied a long time ago for this program, and we were waiting for a response,” Father explained. “For me, receiving that approval and the first shipments of food – it was a miracle! We were very fortunate! It feels like God was watching out for our poor community!”
It is an unthinkable thing for the hard-working faithful of Jesus the Worker to ask for food, Father O’Connor explained. “Sometimes it is embarrassing or humiliating for them to come looking for assistance.” In such cases, he invites families to return at a different time when no one will see them.
“If that helps them feel better to be helped away from the public eye, that is okay,” he continued. “But we try to emphasize that we are a Christian community, and there are times when we help others in the community, and other times like now, when we allow the community to help us. For me, we are able to hearken back to the roots of our Church and Faith, in this time of crisis, in how we understand we should care for one another.”
If you would like to help Jesus the Worker Parish food pantry, please send contributions to 881 Nuna Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33905, call 239-693-5333 or visit the Parish website at https://jesustheworker.org/ and click on the English button to translate the page. In addition, the Diocese of Venice is providing an online platform. Please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/ways-to-give/parish-donations-online/ and select Jesus the Worker Parish in the drop-down box (please disable you pop-up blockers).