Unsure if hunger is widespread in the Southern Tier? Take a sampling of the area’s parish bulletins, and you’ll know the answer is an unfortunate yes. On the bright side, churches of all denominations are obviously committed to addressing this crisis.
Bulletin notices often publicize food pantries and kitchens operated by parishes and community organizations, asking for assistance toward hunger relief. Examples from June and July bulletins include:
TIOGA COUNTY: Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s parishes — spaghetti sauce, jelly, chicken-noodle soup, applesauce, mustard, shampoo and detergent requested for Tioga County Rural Ministry.
TOMPKINS: St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Ithaca — canned goods and nonperishable items for Ithaca Kitchen Cupboard. Immaculate Conception Parish, Ithaca — personal-care items for Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga; canned and boxed goods for Ithaca Kitchen Cupboard.
SCHUYLER: Schuyler Catholic Community — soups, tuna fish, cereal and canned vegetables for Schuyler Outreach.
STEUBEN: All Saints Parish, Corning — tuna, soup and spaghetti products, as well as a “desperate need” of body soap, shampoo and diapers for Corning Community Pantry.
CHEMUNG: St. Mary Our Mother Parish, Horseheads — cereal for Horseheads Food Pantry. Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Elmira — sauce, fruit, dressing and pork and beans for Elmira Free Community Kitchen. Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, Elmira — spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, jam or jelly, canned meat items, tuna and paper products for Elmira’s Samaritan Center.
Many bulletin items also seek financial and volunteer support. The overall need is especially great at this time of year, said Mercy Sister Phyllis McGuire, director of Tioga County Rural Ministry in Owego. She pointed out that food supplies go quickly in the summer because children don’t have school meals available — including those that are government-subsidized.
“One day we had 12 families here,” she said.
Sister McGuire submits a weekly request list for the Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick bulletin. The needs can be unpredictable: Sister McGuire observed that “this summer we’ve needed chicken-noodle soup, which is usually a winter thing.” On the other hand, she said there’s a chronic shortage of such supplies as toilet paper, laundry detergent, shampoo and toothpaste because these items cannot be purchased with food stamps.
Many agencies such as Tioga County Rural Ministry have strong ecumenical backing. For instance, Sister McGuire’s requests also run in the bulletin at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Owego — one of many area churches involved in the ministry’s operation. Meanwhile, Corning Community Pantry is located at the former St. Patrick’s Church but has board members from several denominations. And Elmira Free Community Kitchen, located at the parish center of Ss. Peter and Paul, is also an initiative of several churches.
In Ithaca, the Kitchen Cupboard has existed since 1969 as a project of ACT (Area Congregations Together). Loaves and Fishes, founded in 1983, is an ecumenical meal ministry housed at St. John’s Episcopal Church. And in Horseheads, the local food pantry — based at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church — is the work of seven area churches including St. Mary Our Mother. Lillian Henry, a St. Mary Our Mother parishioner, has volunteered for 12 years at Horseheads Food Pantry. She acknowledged that religious differences don’t matter when it comes to serving the hungry.
“There’s great camaraderie as far as this food pantry is concerned — a lot of dedicated people,” she said.
Schuyler Outreach, located at the parish center of St. Mary of the Lake Church in Watkins Glen, gets ecumenical support with an especially big boost from Schuyler Catholic Community. The parish allows the pantry to operate rent-free — “that’s a biggie,” said Nancy Brand, director — and holds many fundraisers and food collections throughout the year.
Schuyler Outreach is an agency of Catholic Charities, as are other hunger-relief initiatives in the Tier such as the Samaritan Centers in Elmira and Ithaca, Tioga Outreach in Waverly and Turning Point in Bath. Catholic Charities also plays a major role in assisting food pantries and soup kitchens through its Food Bank of the Southern Tier. That agency serves as a conduit for donations from food producers, government food programs and food-distribution centers. Items are sold at greatly reduced costs to nearly 200 charitable agencies in Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins counties, as well as Broome County in the Diocese of Syracuse.
Support from all ends is necessary, said Sue Schuppert, a parishioner of All Saints in Corning who serves as board president for Corning Community Pantry.
“We see about 1,100 individuals each month. It’s astonishing — hunger is even in the most affluent communities,” she remarked.
Father Walter Wainwright, pastor of St. Anthony/St. Patrick and administrator of Ss. Peter and Paul, all in Elmira, lauded many of the area ministries — including the St. Anthony/St. Patrick pantry that served 149 families in the month of June — in a July 10 bulletin article. He remarked that “in the Gospel, Jesus spoke frequently about the poor and specifically about feeding the hungry,” noting that the parish food pantry “allows us to respond to this Gospel call.”