Volunteers feed 330 families - Catholic Courier

Volunteers feed 330 families

Sue Norton spent most of Nov. 16 preparing Thanksgiving meals for 330 families. While she wasn’t slaving over a hot stove all day, she was busily packing boxes with Thanksgiving staples and stocking the two commercial freezers at St. Alphonsus Food Pantry with turkeys.

"I’ve got probably 50 or 60 already in my freezers. We managed to get them all in there," Norton said. "You just have to watch out when you open them. Open carefully and stand back."

Norton and her husband, Charlie, have been the coordinators of the food pantry at St. Alphonsus Parish in Auburn, where they are parishioners, for more than 20 years. Each week the pantry provides food for more than 300 families, and each Thanksgiving the Nortons and their volunteers put together Thanksgiving baskets to make the holiday a little brighter for Auburn’s needy families.

In the weeks leading up to the holiday, they collect the traditional Thanksgiving foods, such as turkeys, potatoes and stuffing, and put together Thanksgiving baskets for needy families, who begin signing up to receive the baskets in early November, Norton said. The Nortons and dozens of volunteers then spend the Saturday before Thanksgiving doling out the baskets to the families.

The basket giveaway date this year was Nov. 17, so the Nortons and their volunteers spent Nov. 16 packing boxes for the 330 families who’d signed up. There were more families signed up to receive baskets this year than any other year she could recall, Norton said.

"We had hoped we could stop at 300, but there’s other people in need out there. This year the need is especially great because the gas prices are horrendous," she said.

Many families who would otherwise be financially stable have been forced to ask for help because the rising gas prices have stretched their finances to the breaking point, Norton said.

"Gas prices and food prices went way up and their salaries didn’t. They’ll come up to me and say, ‘I was doing OK and my budget was working, but now I’ve got to get gas to get to work and feed my family,’" Norton said. "It’s very hard and it’s getting harder, and I don’t know when these gas prices are going to stop going up."

The St. Alphonsus Food Pantry is seeing the effects of rising gas costs at both ends of the spectrum, she added. Many of the food pantry’s regular donors have been forced to scale back their donations or stop donating altogether.

"A lot of the people who used to stop and give me $5 or $10 are just saying, ‘I’m sorry, this year I can’t.’ I understand. Their families have to come first," Norton said.

Nonetheless, the food pantry is still thriving because the Auburn community is very generous, even when faced with tough financial times, Norton said. Auburn’s six Catholic parishes and their parishioners have always been extremely generous, she added.

"Those people really do go out of their way to do what they can. They really reach down into their pockets, and people in these parishes are absolutely fantastic," she said.

At the beginning of November the Nortons leave paper bags at each of the churches, as well as lists of what they need for each Thanksgiving basket. The lists make it easy for people to simply add the wish-list items to their own lists when they’re out shopping, and they then fill the paper bags with these items and return them to the churches or the food pantry, Norton said. By Nov. 16 the food pantry had received bags and bags of donated food, including more than 400 pounds of potatoes, she said..

Parishioners also are asked to either buy a turkey and donate it to the pantry, or instead donate a $10 gift card. Norton planned to use the gift cards the food pantry had received when she went turkey-shopping on the evening of Nov. 16.

Auburn’s young people also generously contributed to this year’s Thanksgiving baskets, Norton said. Two youngsters set up a haunted house at a relative’s house in October, and asked people to donate either $1 or one nonperishable food item in exchange for admission. These children donated 500 canned goods to the food pantry, she said.

The youth-group members from St. Mary and Sacred Heart parishes in Auburn and St. Ann Parish in Owasco went trick-or-treating for canned goods a few days before Halloween. They donated another 500 food items to the pantry, and St. Joseph School in Auburn donated about a dozen boxes of canned goods gathered during an autumn food drive, Norton said.

"These kids, they’re real into this and they really enjoy helping. It really is good to see," she said.

Many families come to the food pantry each year to help prepare and give away the baskets. For many, it’s become a holiday tradition, and children as young as 4 and 5 work alongside volunteers in their 80s who have been helping for years, Norton said.

"They want to help. I don’t have to beg for volunteers. There’s a tremendous amount of people that volunteer," Norton said.

These volunteers come to help out and serve others, but they enjoy their service, too, she added. They aren’t deterred by the cold weather they sometimes face on basket-giveaway day.

"They just dress for it. They get on their mittens and their gloves and their heavy shoes," Norton said. "They have a good time. They wouldn’t dream of not coming."

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