At St. Columba parish in Hopewell Junction, food pantry volunteers continue their mission of providing nourishment for the body and hope for the spirit during these uncertain days stemming from the global coronavirus crisis. They serve through the Tri-Parish Food Pantry, based at St. Columba. The other two nearby parishes are St. Denis in Hopewell Junction and St. Kateri Tekakwitha in LaGrangeville.
“Our food pantry is still active, with strict guidelines in place; and we’re still planning to help in some way at Easter,” Father Michael McLoughlin, pastor of St. Columba, told CNY this week. “They’ve made adjustments, but yes they’re still helping people with food, and they’re coming up with plans to help people at Easter too.”
The pastor noted, “Our Ministry of Care is making phone calls to our elderly and trying to help in any way we can.”
Under the strict pantry guidelines, Father McLoughlin explained, a volunteer packs a recipient’s groceries; the volunteer leaves the packed food inside a cart outside the pantry. The recipient then retrieves the groceries and places them in his or her vehicle in the St. Columba parking lot.
“We’re calling it ‘Pack and Go.’ Our volunteers pre-pack their client’s groceries before the scheduled appointment time,” the pastor said. “And then the cart is placed outside the door and they load their own car. No clients come into the pantry at this time. Each client has a volunteer that works with them directly (some volunteers have several clients). So they’re not anonymous to us; we know everybody. They are in touch with each other on the phone and they arrange a pickup where there is no contact.”
Father McLoughlin added that the parish has had a “long-term relationship with our clients and we want to keep helping them...It is a joint work of St. Columba, St. Kateri and St. Denis. Volunteers come from all three churches to help us with the food pantry.” About 100 volunteers are assigned to more than 100 households (about 300 people in all, including children).
“Even though the circumstances have changed, we’re trying to keep helping our people. We’re adjusting. We have not shut the food pantry,” said Father McLoughlin, adding that the groceries include fresh food and boxed food.
As for the volunteers, he said, “God love them. We thank them, but we encourage them to be safe. They are naturally concerned about safety for themselves and the clients, but at the same time they realize that this is a vital service for families, over 100 families.” Each household receives monthly food packets.
As for the Ministry of Care program, he said, “This is an ongoing thing that we have; we generally bring people to the doctor if needed, and we help them with light housework and check in on them.”
He said much of this cannot be done now because of COVID-19 safety factors, but volunteers are maintaining phone contact with some elderly parishioners.
“We have a fantastic parish with great people —people who are willing to do whatever they can,” Father McLoughlin said. “They’d loved to do more, but safety is paramount now. They are doing what they can best do practically.”
As for daily and weekend Mass celebrations, “we’re livestreaming Mass; we had 1,000 people join us yesterday,” he said, referring to Sunday, March 22. “It is giving people a sense of closeness and community...And tomorrow we’re adding the WeShare (online donation program).”
Joyce Pfirman, coordinator of the Tri-Parish Food Pantry, explained that volunteers, recipients and donors are from within the three parishes, and St. Columba is the distribution site. “We have put precautions in place to serve our clients safely,” Mrs. Pfirman noted. “Normally, before the virus (COVID-19), we’d have them come to the pantry and they’d tell us while we pack their cart what they want. But now with “Pack and Go” we call the client ahead of time and make a list...We have food and household items—we do have toilet paper and paper towels— laundry detergent and shampoo, all kinds of household goods.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic “we don’t let them inside the pantry, but we’re still able to serve them,” she said. “And there is quite a demand at this time, as you can imagine. We’re really doing our best to stay operational.”
Food is purchased monthly from the Food Bank of New York’s Cornwall site. “They have a warehouse there,” she said. “We get the majority of the food that way, about 5,000 pounds of food and other products a month.
“The recipients, the clients, are very grateful,” Mrs. Pfirman added. “The food that we give them goes a long way, especially during these times.”