Geneva food co-op helps needy, keeps priest's legacy alive - Catholic Courier

Geneva food co-op helps needy, keeps priest’s legacy alive

Father Michael McHale left his post as parochial vicar at St. Stephen Parish in Geneva in 1995 and passed away several months later, but his influence is still strong in Geneva. He left behind a legacy of service and care for others, and dozens of community members reap the benefits of this legacy every month, according to Joseph Cirencione, director of Geneva’s Food Sense.
Food Sense is a food co-op Cirencione founded nearly 16 years ago with the help of several other parishioners from St. Stephen Parish, which later joined with St. Francis de Sales Parish to form Geneva’s Our Lady of Peace Parish. Cirencione and the others founded the co-op in November 1993 at the behest of Father McHale because people often came to the rectory looking for food and money.
Father McHale left St. Stephen in June 1995 for a new post at Rochester Institute of Technology. He returned to Geneva that Christmas Eve to say midnight Mass, and he died in a car accident later that night after leaving Geneva, Cirencione said. This was a huge blow, but Cirencione and the other co-op volunteers were determined Father McHale’s legacy would live on.
And it has.
"This will be our 16th year in November. It’s been an amazing thing," Cirencione said. "It makes a huge difference in people’s lives."
Food Sense helps families and individuals obtain groceries at a reduced price, Cirencione said. At the beginning of each month people order boxes of food, which then are delivered at the end of the month, said Marie Milligan, social-ministry coordinator at Our Lady of Peace Parish. Food Sense is run out of Milligan’s office.
Each box of food costs $15.50, and contains at least $30 worth of groceries, Cirencione said.
"There’s anywhere from 12 to 18 items, depending on what time of the year it is. Meat, potatoes, vegetables, it runs the whole gamut," he said.
Each box distributed in August, for example, contained beef patties, honey-mustard chicken, pork spare ribs, lean ground turkey, American cheese, potato salad, broccoli cuts, ziti, canned corn, canned pineapple and fresh produce. The food comes from Food Bank of Central New York, and food stamps may be used to purchase these boxes, Milligan added.
Anyone who purchases a box of food also is eligible to take advantage of "specials," or reduced prices offered on several additional items. Anyone partaking of the August specials, for example, could purchase two pounds of salmon fillet cuts for $7, three pounds of Italian sausage for $9, three pounds of turkey burgers for $4 or 3.25 pounds of chicken drumsticks for $4.
"The specials are bought and added to the base box of food. Each month the specials are different," Cirencione said. "One of our most popular specials is five pounds of sliced cheese. We usually sell four to five, sometimes six, of these a month, and that’s a lot of cheese."
Local farmers sometimes donate fresh produce, and the local Tops Friendly Markets store often donates leftover bakery goods, such as cookies, breads, rolls and sometimes even cakes, Milligan said. Food Sense participants can pick up several of these items for free at the end of the month when they pick up the boxes they purchased earlier.
Cirencione and Milligan don’t require Food Sense participants to provide proof of need in order to purchase food.
"I’m not going to ask customers if they’re spending money here what their financial situation is. When people come to see us they’re already in a position where they’re vulnerable, and I’m not going to embarrass them anymore," Cirencione said.
Although Food Sense only served Geneva residents at its inception, since then it has branched out, he added.
"We ended up having people coming from Victor and Geneva. We (also) serve people from Waterloo, Seneca Falls, Ovid, Interlaken. We have people come from Newark and Lyons," he said.
Cirencione said he relies on a regular group of about eight volunteers that help keep Food Sense running smoothly.
"It’s been pretty much the same volunteers year after year. They’re there every month like clockwork," he said.
Not all of the volunteers are from Our Lady of Peace, he and Milligan noted. Many are, but some also come from other faith communities in the area, including a local Jewish temple.
"We have a real cross-section of people who volunteer to make this happen. Everyone’s got a piece of it," Milligan said.
Our Lady of Peace parishioners volunteer with a number of different hunger-related projects in the Geneva area, Milligan said. The parish regularly supplies volunteers for the Geneva Community Lunch Program, which provides a free and nutritious hot meal every weekday and holiday, and the parish also helps with the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program in Ontario County. Run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this program provides fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables to low-income mothers, infants and children.
"We do a lot in Geneva," Milligan said. "We see a need, and we get a committee of some people together, and we keep doing it. I call us Geneva Wonderful."

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