Faith, need drive generosity at Clare House in Bloomington

Photo Caption: With a “God bless” wish, Clare House volunteer Scott McCormick distributed bags of food to more than 200 guests on a recent Wednesday at Clare House in Bloomington, a Catholic Worker ministry.

By: By Tom Dermody

BLOOMINGTON — Enough food to fill nearly five semitrailer trucks was donated through the generosity of Bloomington-Normal residents during the 17th annual Clare House food drive that ended the day before Thanksgiving.

The good news is that makes it one of the largest, most well-organized drives of its kind in the nation.

The bad news is that the need is so great — and growing — that the food will be given away faster than ever before.

“Lines are longer, the longest I’ve seen in 33 years,” said Tina Sipula, who more than three decades ago founded Clare House here in the Catholic Worker tradition.

The Clare House food pantry distributes the donated bounty on Wednesday and Friday afternoons at 1 p.m. from its location at 703 E. Washington St. On Nov. 23, more than 200 guests formed a line that stretched far down the sidewalk to obtain a grocery bag full of food, pick up baby supplies, and on this day — thanks to the McLean Sportsman Club — a free turkey.

“For any cynic, I assure you these people really need our help,” said Dan O’Brien, owner of Extreme Motors, who has chaired the drive since he helped design it 17 years ago.

At that time, filling one semitrailer was enough to supply Clare House for the entire year. “Today the need is seven to 10,” he said.

Most of the food comes in during the six-week drive that unites the entire community — schools, churches, businesses, fraternities and sororities, etc. Area Catholic parishes actively support it, and Central Catholic High School, for example, uses canned goods instead of flowers for its homecoming floats, then donates them to Clare House.

Both Sipula and O’Brien credited Mike Marvin, a candidate for the permanent diaconate from Holy Trinity Parish, for his work in coordinating the volunteers who make the drive a success.

“It is the story of people giving of themselves, asking for nothing and expecting nothing in return,” wrote Marvin in the most recent issue of the Clare House newsletter. “They are truly doing God’s work,” he said, quoting the Scripture passage ‘When did I see you hungry, Lord, and feed you?”

One of those volunteers Nov. 23 was Pamela Bonanno, who was part of a “bag brigade” that moved the food from the Clare House basement to its side door distribution site.

“This place is really special to me,” said Bonanno. “I’ve been blessed, and this is part of the giving back for me. There’s a spirit in this house and I’m drawn to it.”

So are dozens of others who volunteer both at Clare House and the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen it operates at St. Mary’s Parish Hall.
Inevitably, Sipula said, a volunteer will offer to help and say, “I used to be in line.”

“And we just stand there and cry,” she said.

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