Canton parish pantry fills hearts, stomachs for 25 years

By: By Jennifer Willems

CANTON — Robert Nagy said life would be a little more difficult without the help he receives each Friday from the food pantry at St. Mary’s Church here.

“I’m on disability, Social Security. I don’t get much from the state,” he said. “This helps me provide for my child — I have a 1-year-old boy. I get soap and diapers and cereal.”

That means a lot because diapers, especially, are hard to come by, he explained.

“A lot of food pantries don’t think about the kids,” Nagy told The Catholic Post. “But here you get asked, ‘What do you need?'”

The St. Mary’s Food Pantry has been asking that question and then meeting as many of those needs as possible for 25 years. On Thursday, Aug. 5, the community will gather for Mass at 5:30 p.m. to thank God for what has been accomplished and seek his continued help for what still needs to be done.

Following the Mass, there will be a potluck dinner in the parish hall. Among those who will be speaking is Sylvia Juraco, one of the original volunteers when the food pantry opened on Aug. 12, 1985.

The impetus behind the effort was Father Robert Reynolds, who was named pastor of St. Mary’s Parish that year.

“He said, ‘I know there are needs in the community, but I’m new here. What service would be most needed,'” Juraco recalled. A proponent of Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker philosophy, Father Reynolds asked them to consider a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen or a food pantry.

“We came up with the idea of a food pantry,” Juraco said. “Once that was decided we really got busy and got things together. It was a lot of fun.”
Not only was it a privilege to be involved, but she appreciated the opportunity to live out her Catholic faith in this way.

“It was one project the whole parish shared in — that giving, that love,” Juraco explained.

And they have taken the advice of another saint-in-the-making as they continue to care for the people in the Canton area.

“The little things done with love are great,” Juraco said, quoting Blessed Mother Teresa.

There’s nothing little about the need, however.

Last year the St. Mary’s Food Pantry served 11,117 persons and the
number continues to grow. Volunteer Phyllis Kovachevich said that on one recent Friday they gave away 90 bags of food, which impacted the lives of 247 people. Six of those seeking assistance were new that week.

“The economy is why we have so many people,” she said. “In our town, there’s not a lot of work.”

Kovachevich said the first step in helping the clients is record their name, address, the number people in their families and how many of them are children, and what sort of income they receive.

“We hope they have some type of income,” she said. “Some don’t have any at all. There is a guideline we go by, but we never turn anybody away.”

Food manager Josephine Rowley, who has volunteered at the pantry for 22 years, said a “regular sack” of food includes two cans of vegetables, one can of fruit, one can of soup, one can of tuna, one sleeve of saltines, a box of macaroni and cheese or some kind of pasta, 1 pound of meat, margarine and two rolls of toilet paper. She said more items may be added if the family is large or there are special needs.

In the summer, for example, they try to provide peanut butter and jelly, SpaghettiOs or cereal — food that children who are home from school can fix for themselves.

Once a month, the pantry gives away dish soap, bar soap, laundry soap and shampoo. Deodorant, razors, toothpaste and toothbrushes are offered when available.

In addition, there is fresh produce from the rectory garden, which was started this year with the blessing of Father Dan Ebker, pastor, and is being tended by Jody McCamey. Palma Miller from Smithville also has a large garden that will yield vegetables throughout the summer and fall.

Recipes go home with the clients, as does information about other community resources.

Kovachevich said they have never run out of food, thanks to monthly Pantry Sundays at St. Mary’s, monetary gifts, and donations from churches and organizations around town, including the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Some schools have started asking children to bring in canned goods instead of treats for their birthdays, and collections during the holidays keep St. Mary’s Food Pantry stocked for several weeks.

“You’re filling a lot of bags for a lot of people. We do the best we can,” Rowley said. “Just about the time we think we’re going to hit bottom, someone will donate something.”

It isn’t easy for people to come in for help, though, and sometimes they hold back or whisper, said volunteer Joyce Batterton, recalling that one woman started to cry.

“We’ll get up give them a big hug and say, ‘It’s OK. We’re here to help you.'”

“They’re very polite. Very respectful,” Nagy told The Post. “It makes me feel very loved.

“I wish there were more places like this,” he said.

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