By Babette Pascasio/The Catholic Spirit
God’s blessings overflow into the lives of so many people, and each day is a day to give thanks for the work that all the people do at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church Food Pantry, which serves the community of Bluefield, and the surrounding areas. The SHCC staff brings God’s love and care to families in this region. From January to October 2019, a total of 11,565 individuals have already been served.
The ministry was started 29 years ago, and this service to the community is very much needed. The SHCC Food Pantry director is Annette Morgan, and the marketing director/purchasing agent is Ron Ciccolini.
During Wednesdays in the month of November, participants received a basket for Thanksgiving. It included a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, canned green beans and corn, rice, peas, pasta & sauce, crackers and peanut butter, and cereal. During Wednesdays in December, holiday baskets—including turkeys—were also distributed to individuals and families.
According to Morgan, those helped by the food pantry come on an “as needed” basis. It’s an emergency food assistance program: for anyone who has lost a job, has had an illness, or is on food stamps. She mentioned a couple in which the husband lost his job, and they didn’t know what else to do, so they came to the food pantry for a period of time. Three to four months later, he found work again and the couple made a donation to the food pantry.
“This is probably the first Catholic organization I’ve gone through for any assistance,” said one client who is originally from Florida and moved to the Mountain State. “Although I have an income, it’s not enough.” She helps to support an adult daughter, who is going through an addiction.
What she likes about the SHCC food pantry are the fresh fruits and vegetables provided. She also commented that the clothing closet is very clean, and offers very nice apparel.
“I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum where I’ve had plenty (and now in need)… People here are totally giving, because they want to. There’s no judgment or embarrassment… As a Catholic, I‘ve always believed in giving. This is the first time in my life, I’ve needed to receive.” She attends another Catholic church, but has been to a Mass at Sacred Heart in Bluefield.
When they come to the food pantry, she said, “I’m surprised to see people walking here. They carry two to three bags of food. People really travel to get here.”
She and a friend, a Maryland native who also has moved to West Virginia, share a vehicle and come to SHCC food pantry together. He said, “This is the best place. They’re always giving.”
He has an adult son who is disabled and takes care of him at home by himself. His wife, who was also disabled, has passed away. This parent said if he returns to work full time his son would have to be institutionalized, and he wants him to live at their home instead.
“Life is hard enough if it’s just for you, but you have to take care of your kids, (and then) your kids’ kids,” he said. He heard about the SHCC ministry through a counselor from this area.
At Sacred Heart, “they don’t judge you or try to analyze—that’s God’s decision. They’re always friendly. There would be a lot people hurting without this church,” he said.
The Mountaineer Food Bank, located in Gassaway, serves the state of West Virginia and agencies—like Sacred Heart’s food pantry—that are part of its network. The SHCC staff purchase staples from the Mountaineer Food Bank that works with West Virginia Department of Agriculture to distribute USDA commodities such as: green beans, peanut butter, corn, canned fruit, dried plums, dried cherries, and chick peas (garbanzo beans).
According to Ciccolini, many of the clients seen are also the elderly—who are very appreciative of all the help that the church gives. These seniors, who are retired and have limited incomes, are depending on social security of approximately $900 per month and only $13 of food stamps, he said.
One of the Christian principles we are taught is that we need to feed the hungry, Ciccolini said, “I was born and raised by those Christian principles, and I choose to continue to do that throughout my life.”
When also asked about this ministry, co-minister Morgan said, “We (volunteers) feel the same way… We want to do something to thank God and give honor to our Lord. I grew up in an Italian family (and feeding people was a way to help others).”
The Community Foundation of the Virginias donated $25,300 in 2018 for a commercial walk-in refrigerator/freezer for the SHCC food pantry. This foundation also donated $7,000 this year for food. Organizers also held a Sabika bingo event Nov. 3, which helped raised $11,288 for the SHCC food pantry. The pantry is also helped by donations from parishioners, community donations, grocery stores: Sam’s Club and grants, and Little Caesar’s Pizza.
According to Mountaineer Food Bank data: “One out of six residents in West Virginia are affected by hunger. These people may be your friends, neighbors, family members… Thirty-seven counties are classified at-risk or distressed.”
The food pantry is opened on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and closed for the staff’s lunch hour from noon to 1 p.m. Clients must register, meet the income guidelines, and also live in SHCC’s service area. Those on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are eligible.
In addition to the food ministry, Sacred Heart’s clothing closet includes garments for men, women, and children. Additional items from the SHCC closet are shoes, purses, socks, and undergarments. The staff of WVVA news station in Bluefield also donated 300 coats this year for SHCC’s clothing closet. Clients can purchase 20 pieces of clothing and one coat with a ticket.
With the food and clothing provided, many families are being helped this year and many more in the years to come.
Cutting the ribbon for the new freezer/refrigerator unit at Sacred Heart Food Pantry in Bluefield is Smokey Shott, executive director of Community Foundations of the Virginias, who awarded the food pantry a grant for the new unit and $7,000 for food to fill it. In the front row, from left, are Polla Rumberg, Ron Ciccolini, Susie Richmond, Gail Bays, Cindy Albert, Patty Peretti, Kathleen Blaydes, Patty Peebles, Smokey Shott, Annette Morgan, Mary Kelly, Theresa Bales, and Father Sebastian Devasya, pastor of Sacred Heart parishes in Bluefield and Princeton.