Charity on wheels: St. Nicholas Mobile Pantry is blessed and ministry launched

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, blesses a van that will serve as the St. Nicholas Mobile Pantry, a new outreach of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Peoria. Looking on at left during the ceremony at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria are Sister Michelle Fernandez, SCTJM, director of Catholic Charities, and Suzie Meismer, who will provide case management at the van’s various stops throughout the diocese. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

There is now a St. Nicholas Day every week in the Diocese of Peoria.

On Tuesday morning, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, blessed a white Ford Transit cargo van as the “St. Nicholas Mobile Pantry,” a new outreach of Catholic Charities to serve needs throughout the 26-county diocese.

Each week, usually on a Tuesday, the walk-in van will travel to one of four regions in the diocese to respond to specific needs made to known Catholic Charities via a form on its website.

“We all can recognize St. Nicholas as the bearer of gifts,” said Sister Michelle Fernandez, SCTJM, newly appointed director of Catholic Charities, in explaining the name selected for the mobile ministry.

The van’s spacious, shelved interior holds a variety of donated items for distribution. Among them are blankets, one of which is held by Sister Michelle. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

The “gifts” that this van will deliver include necessities such as blankets, towels, school supplies, socks, gloves, non-perishable food items, baby clothes, diapers, canes and gift cards. What is stocked on the van’s interior shelves for a given trip depends on what has been donated and what has been requested by those in need.

But a different kind of gift will be offered at every stop.

“The ministry also has a spiritual dimension,” said Sister Michelle. “Individuals will always receive a religious item such as a Bible, a rosary, or a holy card.” In addition, Catholic Charities will ask for prayer requests and pay the stipend for Masses to be said for that intention at a parish in the region.

FOUR REGIONAL HUBS

Sister Michelle will be behind the wheel each week. On most occasions she will be accompanied by Suzie Meismer, who will provide case management services and a listening ear for clients when necessary.

The ministry actually began a week prior to the blessing with a delivery to St. Patrick Parish in Urbana.

“A woman filled out the application online and we gave her some blankets, some book bags, and gift cards,” said Sister Michelle.

And that’s how the St. Nicholas Mobile Pantry will operate every week.

The preliminary schedule calls for the van to be in the Champaign-Urbana area on the first Tuesday of the month; the Peoria area on the second Tuesday; the LaSalle-Peru area on the third Tuesday; and the Quad Cities area on the fourth Wednesday.

Sister Michelle has established initial delivery/pick-up points in each of the four regions. They include St. Patrick Parish in Urbana, the Family Resources Center in Peoria, St. Patrick Parish in LaSalle, and St. Mary Parish in Moline.

A list of the communities served by each region appears on the downloadable form at ccdop.org. The form, to be completed by either the head of a household or by a parish on behalf of a family in need, includes a list of items that may be requested.

Members of the diocesan staff look on as Bishop Jenky leads a blessing ceremony for the St. Nicholas Mobile Pantry on Sept. 10. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Sister Michelle said the van may stop at other parish or Catholic institutional sites as needed to make deliveries, but will not visit individual homes. She has charted areas of greater poverty in the diocese, but said at times the van will stop at parishes in more wealthy areas to seek donations.

“We’re just trying to establish it,” said Sister Michelle. Following Tuesday’s blessing ceremony, she visited Sophia’s Kitchen and the Bessette Center — which both serve the hungry in Peoria — to distribute request forms.

VOLUNTEERS, DONATIONS NEEDED

The ministry was developed under the direction of Sister Michelle’s predecessor at Catholic Charities, Sister Ana Pia Cordua, SCTJM, who oversaw fundraising to purchase the “gently used” van.

The agency is seeking donated items as well as volunteers to assist by helping stock the van’s shelves, pick up donated items from parishes, or be present at delivery sites.

A training day for volunteers will take place at the Family Resources Center in Peoria from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday, Oct. 25. Donated items can be dropped off at the Family Resources Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays. Sister Michelle said items especially needed at this time include diapers (sizes 5 and 6), as well as toiletries (toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, toilet paper).

For more information on the St. Nicholas Mobile Pantry, email Sister Michelle at sr_michelle@ccdop.org , call (309) 671-1550, or visit ccdop.org.

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