Food demand remains high in Arcadia

Francisco Hernandez does not want to go to the food pantry run by Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. at St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, but he has little choice. “I have to feed my children.”

Hernandez was inside one of dozens of vehicles which stopped by the food pantry on the morning of June 12, 2020, which is open the second and fourth Fridays of each month to help families impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The food distribution efforts began in late May coinciding with drastic increases in local unemployment as farming in the area reduced or ceased operations.

“I was working 60-70 hours a week,” said Hernandez about his work on a nearby farm. “I worked 10 hours this week and was fortunate for that.”

The rural farming community relies on the agricultural industry for jobs but disruptions in nationwide demand caused farms to shorten or alter their production seasons leaving many with no work.

With five children, Hernandez said he knows of other assistance available in the community, but he trusts Catholic Charities. “The Church is here for us. We support the Church when we can. Now we can’t, so they are helping us. God bless you all,” he said as bags of food were loaded into the back of his vehicle.

Some of the vehicles which came through the distribution line were picking up food for multiple families which didn’t have transportation. The food, mostly dry goods – such as rice, beans and canned food – should support families for a few weeks.

Gloria Romero, the Catholic Charities Regional Director covering the programs in Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto counties, said the agency is meeting a specific need in the community.

“We know that this food makes a difference in the lives of the people we serve,” Romero explained. “Taking away the worry about whether or not they will be able to adequately feed their children is a big deal. We are in this for the long-haul.”

The food pantry at St. Paul Parish in Arcadia is one of six distribution points strategically located throughout the Diocese of Venice. Since mid-March thousands of individuals and families have been assisted with more than 450,000 pounds of food. That total does not even include the thousands of others who have received financial assistance for emergency bills or those who are seeking help through tele-mental health counseling.

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. is in urgent need of your financial support during its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org/donate or send a check to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc., 5824 Bee Ridge Road, PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065.

If you need assistance from Catholic Charities for food, financial assistance or tele-mental health counseling, please call the number for your area listed below from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Services have expanded to include assistance in applying for state and federal benefits if you have lost work due to the COVID-19 Pandemic:

  • Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto/Hardee/Highlands counties: 844-385-2407,
  • Charlotte/Lee/Hendry/Glades counties: 844-385-2423,
  • Collier County: 844-385-2404.

Food distribution

Catholic Charities food distribution will take place only at the following times and locations. Please call the regional number for more information.

  • Monday-Friday, 9-11 a.m., Guadalupe Social Services, 211 S. 9th St., Immokalee, Soup Kitchen providing take-out/meals-to-go;
  • Tuesdays, 9-11:30 a.m., Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center, 3174 Tamiami Trail E., Naples;
  • Thursdays, 9 a.m.-noon, St. Margaret Parish, 208 Dean Duff St., Clewiston;
  • Fridays, 9-11 a.m., St. Leo the Great Parish, 28360 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs;
  • Fridays, 9 a.m.-noon, Elizabeth K. Galeana Pantry, 4235 Michigan Avenue Link, Fort Myers;
  • 2nd and 4th Fridays of the month, 9-11 a.m., St. Paul Parish, 1208 E. Oak St. Arcadia.

Helping brothers and sisters in need

Crisis brings out best in people

“We would be here even if it was to help one family.”

This was the assertion made by Maria DeJesus the director of St. Jude Parish Food Pantry in Sarasota. In existence since the Parish was founded in 2006, the food pantry, which sits in a mobile home at the rear of the Parish property, normally assists a few dozen families each week. Most of these families are down on their luck or in need of emergency supplies because of other unexpected expenses.

The COVID-19 Pandemic changed the dynamics in the community as many families were struck with unforeseen job loss as well as an uncertain future. “We jumped to helping more than 120 families each week,” DeJesus explained. “It was shocking, but we responded in the best way we could; with prayers, hard work and the grace of God.”

Appeals for financial support went out and the faithful responded either with food or financial donations. With All Faith’s Food Bank – a primary source for supplies – nearly depleted because of the same demand, DeJesus and other volunteers purchased food at local stores – whatever they could get their hands on.

“It was tough,” she explained. “The stores didn’t have much, but we talked to the managers and they worked with us to get what we needed. They understood that our food was feeding people who might otherwise starve without our help.”

Starvation might seem like an extreme statement, but when families lose jobs and bills continued to come in, difficult choices must be made. Food becomes a luxury item and as the home cupboards emptied, they turned to the one place they trusted – the Parish.

Father Celestino Gutierrez, Pastor of St. Jude, said he is proud of the work being done through the food pantry and ensure they have what is needed to meet the demand.

“When we built the Church, I made sure we had this food pantry,” he explained. “I purchased this used mobile home (which holds the pantry) so that we had something when people came to us for help, we would always be there.”

Father Gutierrez said the Catholic Church is a beacon of hope for the world and in turn the Parish food pantry is an important part of that hope for the local community. “We are called by Jesus to help the least of our brothers (Matt 25:40). We must always remember to do that.”

As a vehicle approached on a recent Wednesday evening, the driver’s face was unfamiliar, but the story was not: job loss, hardship, worry, need.

Two overflowing bags of food were loaded into the back of the vehicle as the driver said she was thankful and wanted to get out and give them a hug. Of course, there are no hugs during social distancing, but the thanks and gesture were appreciated.

DeJesus said the peak demand has tapered off since mid-June as businesses are reopening and people go back to work, but there are still upwards of 60-80 families coming to the food pantry during the two distribution times each week (5-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 8:30-9:30 a.m. Saturdays). That translates to hundreds of mouths being fed. The pantry offers food that will last families for about two weeks, offering various dry good, and when available, meat, fruit and vegetables.

“No matter the demand, we will be here,” DeJesus said.

That same attitude is found at other Parishes which established emergency food pantries. St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples set up its emergency food pantry in the Spirit Center, a place where receptions and fun events normally take place. Directed by John Toti, the Parish Events Coordinator in other times, who noted that locally those working in service industries were particularly hard hit and requests for help came pouring in, even as the Parish offices were closed to visitors.

“In the past we would have either directed them to go to Catholic Charities or the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or even given them a gift card to a nearby store,” Toti explained. “But everyone was hit with demand all at once, so we knew we had to do something else.”

An emergency request was made to Catholic Charities and the response was positive as Toti previously volunteered at the nearby Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center, a facility run by Catholic Charities which includes a large food pantry. A general appeal to parishioners for donations generated its own overwhelming response and for the past eight weeks food has been made available to all.

“It is the right thing to do,” Toti said. “We are here every day (10 a.m.-3 p.m.) and provide a good mix of food that will last.”

While St. Jude and St. Peter the Apostle are not the only Parishes to step up during this crisis, either through their own food pantry or through donations from local organizations, the acts of generosity is not limited to these groups.

For example, St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota recently announced the generosity of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School student and St. Martha Alumnus, Mallory Albritton who heard about needy local families and decided to help.

Mallory, along with Total Tennis Sarasota owner, Phil Perrla and his wife, Epp Miller, donated the meat from their hogs. Mallory bought hers through the 4H Market Swine Project with her own money ($1,300) specifically to donate to families while Perrla and Miller won theirs in the 4H Foundation Raffle. Mallory also paid with her own money to process the meat that was donated.

These donations will help seven families in need from St. Martha Catholic School, St. Mary Academy and Incarnation Catholic School, all in Sarasota. The donation included multiple packages of sausage, pork chops, ham steaks, hams, hocks, picnic shoulder, Boston butt, roast, spareribs and bacon!

Siobhan Young, St. Martha Principal, said she was visiting Albritton Fruit Farms a few weeks ago and was approached about the business wanting to donate the pork and asked if she knew anyone who was in the school that needed help. The farming family has had children and now grandchildren attend St. Martha.

“There are families at the schools that have lost jobs and were regularly using food pantries to sustain them,” Young explained. “The meat they received is up to a 4-week supply.”

These are just a few examples of the action taking place throughout the Diocese of Venice, not just in Parishes but by individuals. The hard work taking place is often done without fanfare or recognition, but it is an effort that is making a difference to our brothers and sisters in need.

If you know of any acts of kindness during the COVID-19 Pandemic that you think should be recognized, please contact Bob Reddy at 941-486-4701 or reddy@dioceseofvenice.org.

 

How to help

St. Jude Parish Food Pantry

3930 17th St., Sarasota, FL 34235

941-955-3934

www.stjudesarasota.com/support-us

 

St. Peter the Apostle Parish

5130 Rattlesnake Hammock Road

Naples, FL 34113

www.stpeternaples.org

Catholic Charities partnership assists COVID patients

The positive COVID-19 cases in Immokalee surpassed the 1,000 mark on June 11, 2020 according to information provided by the Florida Department of Health.

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. is collaborating with the Collier County Bureau of Emergency Services Division (BES), to help those infected with the virus who have tested positive and are unable to self-isolate.

First, to help alleviate the spread of the coronavirus, Collier County BES is leasing seven apartments, for 65 days, at Horizon Village, a dormitory in Immokalee for unaccompanied migrant and seasonal workers owned by the Collier County Housing Authority.

The items, purchased with the help of a donor by Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities, will be used to create “Move-In-Kits” for positive COVID-19 cases who receive temporary housing assistance from Collier County in Immokalee while in quarantine.

The reason for this action is that those living in Immokalee live in very simple and extremely close quarters. The efficiency apartments obtained by the county are a safe place for those infected with the virus to quarantine themselves and yet, remain near family and friends.

With this arrangement finalized, Catholic Charities CEO Philomena Pereira was approached by Dan Summers, director of BES, to provide “Move-In-Kits” for those needing the emergency shelter as well as to offer some hot meals and other food they can cook in their temporary homes while in isolation.

Peggy Rodriguez, Program Director of Catholic Charities Guadalupe Social Services in Immokalee, jumped at the opportunity to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in her community.  Rodriguez contacted one of her generous donors, Tom and Fran McCarthy, to learn if they would help fund the “Move-In Kit” project. They most graciously agreed. Rodriguez and her team went shopping to purchase the supplies needed for the “Move-In Kits.”

The “Move-In-Kit” supplies include: bed kits (sheets, blankets, pillows, comforter), bathroom kits (towels, soap, toilet brush, plunger), cleaning kits (glass cleaners, dish soap, disinfectants cleaning products, bleach, broom, dustpan, laundry detergent), kitchen kits (pots, frying pans, glasses, dish set, utensils, coffee maker) and an AM/FM radio. The cost of one “Move-In Kit” is about $150.

In addition, Catholic Charities will be providing a daily hot meal from Guadalupe Social Services Casa Maria Soup Kitchen and other culturally appropriate non-perishable food items for the length of their stay. The apartments each have refrigerators and kitchenettes.

Father Inna Reddy Yeruva, M.o.C., hands out soup to-go at the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen of Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities in Immokalee on June 10, 2020.

Collier County officials said if more space is needed, more rooms can be reserved quickly. Officials are also unsure how many people will ultimately need the temporary sheltering in the coming weeks and months and thus how many additional “Move-In-Kits” will be needed.

Pereira said this partnership with Collier County came out of ongoing discussions on the increasing demands for assistance in Immokalee. The rural farming community has been hit hard by the impacts of the pandemic in two ways. First there have been massive job losses when farms ceased operations. There has also been a spike in positive tests as many of the residents live in communal housing where social distancing and isolation are next to impossible.

Father Inna Reddy Yeruva, M.o.C., hands out soup to-go at the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen of Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities in Immokalee on June 10, 2020.

Guadalupe Social Services is also home to a food distribution point which has seen a massive increase in demand since the crisis began. The food pantry is open 9-11 a.m. each weekday, and the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen is now open for take-out of hot food during the same hours. Other living accommodations are being made as required and requested by needy families and Collier County officials.

Catholic Charities Board Chair Dick Rogan noted that he had a sense of pride with how Catholic Charities has stepped up to assist in Immokalee and complimented Rodriguez’ team for going above and beyond.

Pereira said the community partnership taking place in Immokalee is an example of how Catholic Charities is adjusting its response to the evolving impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as the situation changes in different areas of the Diocese. Primarily, more rural areas are seeing larger numbers of people out of work and an increase in positive cases, so the focus for assistance is shifting.

“It will take all of us joining forces to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to help those who continue to struggle throughout the Diocese of Venice,” she said.

If you would like to assist the efforts of Guadalupe Social Services, or Catholic Charities as a whole, your financial support is urgently need. To help, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org/donate or send a check to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc., 5824 Bee Ridge Road, PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065.

If you need help

If you need assistance from Catholic Charities for food, financial assistance or tele-mental health counseling, please call the number for your area listed below 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday:

  • Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto/Hardee/Highlands counties: 844-385-2407,
  • Charlotte/Lee/Hendry/Glades counties: 844-385-2423,
  • Collier County: 844-385-2404.

Food distribution

Catholic Charities food distribution will take place only at the following times and locations. Please call the regional number for more information.

  • Monday-Friday, 9-11 a.m., Guadalupe Social Services, 211 S. 9th St., Immokalee;
  • Tuesdays, 9-11:30 a.m., Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center, 3174 Tamiami Trail E., Naples;
  • Thursdays, 9 a.m.-noon, St. Margaret Parish, 208 Dean Duff St., Clewiston;
  • Fridays, 9-11 a.m., St. Leo the Great Parish, 28360 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs;
  • Fridays, 9 a.m.-noon, Elizabeth K. Galeana Pantry, 4235 Michigan Avenue Link, Fort Myers;
  • 2nd and 4th Fridays of the month, 9-11 a.m., St. Paul Parish, 1208 E. Oak St. Arcadia.
X