St. Mary – St. Catherine of Siena Parish social-ministry office has been serving Charlestown residents for fifteen years. In August, more than 300 families visited Harvest on Vine emergency food pantry, where we distributed roughly 20 thousand pounds of food. Because of generous benefactors, we are able to offer fresh produce at each distribution. In July, a combined total of two thousand pounds of potatoes, carrots, bananas, corn on the cob, bok choy, peppers, apples, and onions were given out. We are fortunate that we have so many dedicated volunteers and generous donors who support our mission.
Many of our new clients come to Charlestown from homeless shelters, literally with the clothes on their back, and their needs are great. The parish’s St. Vincent De Paul Society has been working with our new neighbors, providing them with furniture, beds, household wares, sheets, pillows, and blankets. We also help them with soap, toilet paper, shampoo, and detergent.
Our social-ministry committee is collaborating with the Boston chapter of the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP), a national program that offers homeless people retreats in the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola. We are studying the possibility of applying this approach to families living in poverty. The retreats lay a foundation of hope, a spiritual way of life, which can lead to a long -lasting transformation. The spiritual exercises—a series of meditations, prayers, and mental exercises, help people discern God’s will for their lives and grow closer to Him as a result. The program begins with a weekend retreat, followed by a daylong follow-up session, and then ongoing support sessions. Although we don’t serve the homeless, the Boston ISP director will adapt the program for us. More to come. All are welcome to participate.
The social-ministry committee is collaborating with Charlestown New Health to establish a walking program, possibly at Thomas M. Menino Park. The walking program will be open to all and will be a wonderful opportunity for us to get to know our neighbors better and to enjoy the beautiful harbor views. Not to mention the health benefits.
The neighborly compassion that made Charlestown famous has been passed down to the next generation. Charlestown youngsters have initiated food drives and fundraisers to support Harvest on Vine. Students at the Harvard-Kent school collected and delivered more than 700 boxes of breakfast cereal, an amount that carried us for three distributions, feeding hundreds of families. A brother and sister on Rutherford Avenue raised $100 from their lemonade stand and donated the money to the food pantry. The funds will be used immediately to buy food for our next distribution. Seven years ago, a then four-year-old girl, under the guidance of her parents, started an annual backpack program, buying and filling backpacks with school supplies for children going back to school. Last spring, on her own, she also led a food drive at her school, collecting dozens of bags of groceries for the pantry. The girl scouts led a similar drive at the Warren Prescott.
The children at Good Shepherd School host food drives twice a year, and the religious education students fill decorated shopping bags with food for Thanksgiving and Easter.
This spirit of charity has been passed down, all because of the leadership in this community.
We also are grateful to the local organizations and businesses that support us. A special thank you to St. Francis De Sales Parish, who hosts Hungry Sunday, a monthly food drive. We at St. Mary-St. Catherine are most grateful for this support.
Harvest on Vine is registered as an emergency food pantry, but for most of our families, all of whom live far below the poverty line, the state of emergency never ends. Food insecurity is a constant for our neighbors. Harvest on Vine is hoping to alleviate that fear, but it’s not enough. Our goal is not just to eliminate food insecurity, rather to promote food security, so that every family in our community knows they will always have enough to eat.
Harvest on Vine is a success story and that success flows from many generous resources. Yet the most powerful of them all is the daily prayer of this Faith Community for the needs of those who struggle with hunger and poverty.
Tom MacDonald, Director, Parish Social Ministry