EDITOR’s NOTE: The following series of articles illustrate how Catholic Charities agencies throughout the 12-county Diocese of Rochester respond to the call to carry out the corporal works of mercy, especially during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. The corporal works of mercy are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead.
Limited access to adequate food and drink also is a reality for many in the Diocese of Rochester. That’s why diocesan Catholic Charities agencies offer programs that serve the hungry and thirsty as part of their ministries.
Lunch program takes a bite out of hunger
For example, Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes has operated the Geneva Community Lunch Program for more than 30 years, serving nearly 15,000 meals annually, according to Ellen Wayne, the agency’s executive director. The program’s volunteers serve lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Monday through Friday at Geneva’s First United Methodist Church, located at 340 Main St. Wayne said anyone in need is welcome to receive a lunch, noting that as many as 120 meals have been served on a given day.
The program runs solely on the energy and goodwill of its volunteers, she said, with about eight to 10 volunteers helping out daily.
"They do everything from preparing the meals to serving the meals to cleaning up," she said, noting that new volunteers are always welcome.
"We are always looking for people with new energy to join us," she remarked.
Likewise, Food Bank of the Southern Tier in Elmira is always looking for volunteers to assist with its programs, said Natasha Thompson, president and CEO.
"There are many ways to get involved," Thompson remarked, noting that the food bank couldn’t perform its work without its volunteers.
Founded in 1981, Food Bank of the Southern Tier distributes millions of pounds of food each year to more than 160 partner agencies in Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins and Broome counties. In 2015, more than 10 million pounds of food were distributed, and Thompson said the food bank is on track to distribute 11.2 million pounds this year.
Along with providing food to partner agencies, the organization also offers several direct-service food-distribution programs. One such program is the BackPack Program, which serves more than 2,000 students who receive free or reduced-price lunches at all 41 school districts in the food bank’s six-county service area. The program provides these students with bags of nutritious food to take home each Friday during the school year so that they have the nutrition they need on weekends, Thompson said. While school is out for the summer, she said Food Bank of the Southern Tier also works with agencies and schools to ensure families take advantage of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, which offers nutritious meals at churches, schools and community centers.
Food Bank of the Southern Tier also operates a Mobile Food Pantry program, with seven trucks traveling to different distribution sites around the community. Last year, these trucks distributed more than 3.2 million pounds of food, Thompson said.
In addition to its initiatives to feed the hungry, the food bank also offers advocacy and education programs to help community members better understand hunger and poverty.
"It is not enough to just feed people, it is our responsibility to educate our community on why hunger exists," Thompson said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on how to volunteer for Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ Geneva Community Lunch Program, contact Stu Einstein at 315-789-2686, ext. 105, or 315-521-6684. To learn more about Food Bank of the Southern Tier, visit www.foodbankst.org.