Oct. 21-27, 2004
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
New Food Pantry Offers Relief for Families in Need
LIVERPOOL –– Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish is now able to meet the needs of the community with the opening of a new food pantry, located in a renovated house on the property. The new location, recently named Mary’s Pantry, has resulted in a dramatic increase in business. Previously serving between 25 to 30 clients per month, the pantry now serves more than 65 families. Father John Ahern, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, said that the demographics of the Liverpool area have changed dramatically over the past few years. “There is a lot of subsidized housing in this area,” he said. “There are also a lot of military families who are stationed at Fort Drum and living in the Town of Salina.” Father Ahern said that because of the lack of military housing in the northern region, soldiers are bussed to the base from Syracuse each day. “Mainly, though, the people we are dealing with are the unemployed,” said Father Ahern. “It’s devastating for those who lose their jobs.”
Terry Lacey, human service coordinator at the parish, said that in addition to the unemployed and military personnel, two-income families who just can’t make ends meet also visit the food pantry. “This is a working-class neighborhood,” she said. “We are now seeing husbands, wives and children moving back in with their parents. These multi-generational families now have eight or more people in one household.”
The food pantry at Immaculate Heart of Mary has been in existence for more than 10 years but was originally housed in the basement of the rectory and was not easily accessible. “It was small and depressing and we had to worry about the clients getting up and down the stairs,” said Father Ahern. Now the house, located next to the parking lot, offers clients not just food and clothing, but respect and understanding. “We try to make it more personal to meet the needs of each family,” said Lacey. “We offer a nice atmosphere with no stigma attached. I ask the staff to interact with the clients to try and put them at ease,” she said.
Each month, the parish holds “food Sunday.” The week prior to food Sunday, the parishioners are given empty grocery bags with a list of suggested items to put in the bag. The parishioners bring the filled bags back to church the next Sunday. “On special holidays, the children in the religious education classes decorate the bags,” said Father Ahern. “At Christmas, the children write Christmas cards to be included in the bag of groceries.”
Both Father Ahern and Lacey said that because the food pantry is more noticeable, it has increased the number of people who want to help. “It’s gratifying that the parishioners are becoming more aware that the reality of hunger exists,” said Lacey. “We can sit around bemoaning the fact that so many people are out of work. But instead, we ask ourselves what we can do about it.” As a result, the parishioners have been very supportive and generous –– contributing both time and needed items. “Through their generosity, we have been able to help out other parishes in need in Syracuse,” said Lacey.
In addition to food and clothing, Father Ahern said that monetary donations are used to help families in a variety of emergency situations. “We also have a great demand for diapers and formula –– things that wouldn’t normally be associated with a food pantry,” said Father Ahern. The pantry also added an extra bonus for children who come to visit with their parents. “I put in a book shelf filled with used children’s books,” said Lacey. “The kids can come in and take as many as they want. I’m doing my small part for literacy.”
The food pantry at Immaculate Heart of Mary is open on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursdays from 3 p. m. to 5 p.m. For more information, contact Terry Lacey at (315) 457-8060.