FARMINGTON — The Saint Joseph Parish food pantry located in the parish hall at 133 Middle Street in Farmington will be expanding and rebranded as a nutrition center by late January.

Director of Parish Social Ministry Max Becher stands in the Saint Joseph Parish commercial kitchen at 133 Middle Street in Farmington where weekly take-out meals are prepared by volunteers for the parish food pantry. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

Director of Parish Social Ministry Max Becher explained that the self-service food pantry in the entryway would move to its own room in the parish hall. The parish will continue to produce take-out meals once a week, increase its pantry offerings and start offering food-related programming.

“What we have in the entryway is going to move downstairs and it’s going to be a little more standardized with hours and there will be a volunteer there to lead people through the process of basically shopping for themselves, within limits, shopping for free and the takeout meals will be integrated into that,” Becher said.

The parish established its food pantry last spring during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic which Becher described as the impetus for initiating a project that had been in the planning stages for years.

“It just happened that the public health crises struck when we were doing our segment of the warming center,” Social Ministry Coordinator Stephanie Crowe said.

A group of churches in Farmington coordinate warming centers throughout January, February and March, providing hot meals and a day of shelter to anyone in need. Saint Joseph’s Parish was offering its hall in March and the food pantry organically grew from the warming center.

The expansion to a food pantry added restrictions that has made serving the public during the pandemic extra challenging. With the warming center, volunteers could drop off prepared foods but operating a pantry requires that meals are prepared in the parish’s commercial kitchen. 

So we lost volunteers because there were people who would cook and drop off but didn’t want to be present here, so that changed. The volunteer engagement dropped for a while,” Crowe said. “At first there was so much fear that people didn’t want to go out at all but then once people got more comfortable with it and protocols were developed, they were more comfortable with that and we started seeing more volunteer engagement at that point.” 

Crowe estimates that about 30 volunteers are now involved with the pantry and produce 80 to 100 meals a week.

Both the Saint Joseph Parish in Farmington and the Saint Rose of Lima in Jay prepare weekly take-out meals available to anyone in need. In Farmington, 80-100 meals are prepared every Tuesday and placed in the food pantry’s self-serve refrigerator. Photo courtesy of Saint Joseph Parish

Father Paul Dumais said that the pantry’s expansion to a nutrition center will nourish a more diverse food engagement as the parish will start offering cooking classes and courses on how to stretch a budget. He hopes to target all ages through these courses from the strapped-for-cash college student to older generations passing along their skills and knowledge.

I have this little dream of having 70 or 80 year-olds working with 20 years-olds who are interested in canning for example but don’t know how,” Dumais said.

The aim of the nutrition center is to create a social hub that fosters community engagement and relieves the stigma of asking for help. One of the ways in which the parish does this already is by minimizing the amount of information that visitors have to provide.

Since the pantry does not receive any governmental assistance, the parish is not obligated to ask for demographic information or about income levels. At most, Becher said they may ask someone how many meals they need.

“When you have someone fill out a form there can be something demeaning about that especially if you’re asking for income levels,” Becher said. “I understand whit’s done at other institutions but this is just our angle of approach.”

The Saint Joseph Parish blessing box located at 133 Middle Street in Farmington, offers free, packaged foods 24/7. Photo courtesy of Saint Joseph Parish

Another way in which the nutrition center will increase its inclusiveness is by expanding its hours to later in the evening for those that are working during the day.

“We want to be open after work-hours, we want to be open on the weekend — at least one or the other  and we want to host classes and social events, helping people learn to cook for themselves, to enjoy cooking for themselves, discover other relationships and resources they might not be aware of,” Becher said. “So that’s where the name nutrition center comes from, we’re trying to do more than just hand food out, we’re trying to work with people and actually help them move a step or two forward.”  

The Saint Joseph food pantry is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the blessing box is available 24/7 on the parish lawn. The Saint Rose of Lima Parish located at 1 Church St. in Jay also offers a self-serve pantry and blessing box with the same hours.

 

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.