In the midst of the civic unrest and anxiety about the coronavirus, we can lose sight of the ongoing crisis of food insecurity. Defined as “the disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources,” Katie Fitzgerald, Chief Operating Officer of Feeding America, reports more than 54 million people in the US could soon face this dilemma. “About 40% of people showing up for food distributions have never before had to rely on charitable food assistance,” Fitzgerald said in a recent interview with CNN.
In this edition of Corps Connections, we highlight several IVC Service Corps Members (SCMs) across the country helping to feed those in need. And, just for fun, we’ve included a few seasonal and “fan-favorite” recipes from IVC service partners!
In Philadelphia, IVC Service Corps Members Porter Bush and Debbie Hluchen bring new meaning to the phrase “Farm to Table” with the work at their service sites, Sanctuary Farm and “Faith, Food, and Friends.”
Fulfilling a life-long dream to be a farmer, Porter—seen in action in the photo– brings four decades of experience in food service management to Sanctuary Farm, a sustainable inner-city produce initiative, started in 2017 in a vacant lot in North Philadelphia. Now in his second year, Porter helps increase the farm’s capacity by building new beds, compost bins, and other structures, along with planting and harvesting and helping clients. In fact, he had just arrived back from the farm when we spoke with him, after working all day to prepare the farm for the coming frost!
So far this year, the farm has provided over 12,000 lbs. of fresh vegetables to over 300 local families. In a time of food scarcity for so many in the neighborhood, he says, “the appreciation of the locals to have nutritious food to feed their families is really heartwarming,” a feeling he carries with him throughout the week.
Debbie feels fortunate to be able to serve during these challenging times, helping prepare 200 take-out lunches each week during the pandemic while adhering to strict virus protocol. (Her picture is from pre-COVID days!) She is also helping coordinate the parish’s collection of essential items for those they serve to help their guests prepare for the difficult weeks and months ahead.
BJ Brown, pastoral associate at Old St. Joe’s sings Debbie’s praises: “I can’t say enough good things about Debbie. She keeps Faith, Food & Friends running smoothly, making sure that everyone, volunteers and guests alike, feel like valued members of our community. Her eye for detail and calm presence are key to creating the stable, reassuring sanctuary that our guests need so much.
At the SAME (So All May Eat) Café in Denver, they rely on three IVC volunteers — Ann Cohen, Peter Quintero, and LouAnn Witter—serving on three different fronts to keep SAME Café up and running. Peter has been working onsite the front register serving the clients. Until the weather changed, LouAnn had been overseeing the community garden that provides food to the Café, a role she hopes to get back to in the spring.
Ann is beginning her fourth year, assisting the executive director with fundraising. While some volunteer positions have been put on hold due to COVID, fundraising is one essential job made even more important these days so the Café can continue with its mission. Founded in 2006, the SAME Café is “a donation-based, fair exchange restaurant that serves healthy food to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. Our mission is to create community through healthy food access.” In the first nine months of 2020, the Café and the SAME Food Truck served 26,000 meals, an increase from 21,000 meals over all of 2019.
Ann comments on her volunteer work: “My role includes researching potential funding sources, writing grant proposals, and donor communications to secure the funds needed to operate the café, its food truck and ‘Cook to Work,’ a food service training program, offered at the café. I’ve been able to continue most of my work online, so it’s rewarding to know I can help in some small way with the growing problem of food insecurity in our city.”
As you can see by the banner, St. Francis House, located near the Boylston Street Station in downtown Boston has, since 1984, been about the business of “Rebuilding Lives.” IVC SCM Rosemary Balady, pictured here, is passionate about this mission.
In her three years at St. Francis House, she has served a few different roles, providing assistance to those looking for help at the Resource Center, and supporting the administration of the organization. “It is so inspiring to be at a place filled with kind, generous, optimistic staff who are making a difference in the lives of people who have lost so much. I’ve learned so much.”
Most recently, Rosemary has been assisting in the kitchen on a very limited basis, one of the few volunteers who is allowed to return. “The kitchen staff is amazing,” she says. “They make 700 meals a day, and sandwiches to send out for the guests at closing time. They are professionals who could work anywhere in the food industry but love what they do at Saint Francis House. There is a lot of laughter along with the hard work.” (By the way, check out their recipe at the end of this newsletter –“Chili for 400, anyone?”)
Shout-outs to other IVC New England SCMS, Jane Leonard and Leslie McCarthy who have been delivering meals (and smiles and comfort as well) to families and elderly during the pandemic, Jane with our partner Springwell, Inc., and Leslie with My Brother’s Keeper.
IVC volunteer Barbara Semerad started in her role as volunteer coordinator for the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Omaha in February of this year…and a lot has changed in a short time, but she is moved by the willingness of people stepping up to help their neighbors.
She has developed a program to engage and train new volunteers in light of the restrictions in place. Right now, there are volunteer crews who make sandwiches and assemble lunches that are distributed throughout Omaha in areas of particular need. The Food Pantry has also been very busy providing prepacked boxes to those in need, including fresh produce in the summer, grown in the garden adjacent to the pantry.
Barbara writes: “It is humbling seeing our volunteer numbers grow during a pandemic.…. My work, my IVC community, and my reflection of my work has been a tremendous gift to me. I am absolutely overwhelmed with the volunteers who want to provide service to our underserved community. The spirit of giving is palpable and at times emotional for me.”
In our Chicago region, volunteers Mary Frances Jablonskis (left) and Ruth Terry (right) are having
no trouble finding ways to serve the poor at their service partner sites, even in the midst of COVID uncertainty.
Mary Frances, an IVC SMC for 11 years, has spent the last two years serving at Beds Plus, a homeless outreach and shelter initiative in LaGrange, Illinois. Most recently, she is doing everything from fielding phone calls and helping to triage those calls to coordinating deliveries of food to the guests who are sheltering in hotels. (The organization provides 900 individual meals a week to at-risk clients/families they haves housed in motels, and over 100 families experiencing food insecurity.) She also helps out managing donations of food and clothing, distributing clothing from “The Closet,” and helping bag “to-go” lunches that are provided to the guests.
Ruth Terry has served as an IVC SCM for five years at Catholic Charities Daybreak Center in Joliet, Illinois, a 24-hour/365-day emergency housing and support center for homeless individuals and families. Due to COVID regulations, Ruth is on what she hopes will be a short break from her role helping in the kitchen with “Shepherd’s Table” which serves lunch every day. But she continues to work with the case managers at Daybreak to collect essential items and clothing for the clients in preparation for the cold Chicago winter.
As food insecurity grows across the country, IVC Service Corps Members are ready to make a difference in their local communities. Perhaps you’d like to make a difference too. Check our website to see if there’s a regional office in your city, or consider making a donation to IVC to support our efforts