McDevitt grants offer help for food pantries and parish programs

Sandwich Sunday

Sandwich SundayFor the past four years, the McDevitt Grant program, created by a generous bequest from Bob and Kay (Catherine) McDevitt, has been making it possible for parishes to support creative new ideas in evangelization and expand their food pantries.  

   “Each year, as long as they are eligible, a parish can apply for up to two McDevitt grants: one evangelization and one food pantry grant,” stated   Andrea Marshall, assistant director for the diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development, who coordinates the McDevitt Grant program and distribution of funding. “But more parishes should apply. The money is there and available and the process is not difficult.”

   The 2014 McDevitt Grant program is currently open. Applications are available at and must be received in the Office of Stewardship and Development by March 21.


   According to Marshall, the history of the McDevitt Grant program began in 2008 with a bequest of approximately $40 million to the Diocese of Syracuse from Bob and Kay McDevitt, devout Catholics and prominent leaders in their Church and in the Binghamton community. Bob McDevitt owned McDevitt Brothers Funeral Home in Binghamton and served on the Board of Directors for Broome County Catholic Charities and Lourdes Hospital Foundation. He was installed as a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great by Papal Honor and both he and his wife were installed with Papal Honors as Knight and Lady of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

   Bob McDevitt died in September 2008, a few months after his wife Kay had passed away. The majority of his bequest to the Diocese of Syracuse was in IBM stock where his mother Mary had worked as a secretary to the first president of the company, A. Ward Ford. The only stipulation of the bequest was that one third of the annual interest generated from the money must be used “for the purposes, objectives and goals of the HOPE Appeal.”

   In December 2010, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham approved the Office of Stewardship and Development sharing a portion of the McDevitt funds with parishes. With $350,000 in available funds  — $150,000 in food pantry grants and $200,000 for evangelization grants — parishes could apply directly for a grant. If a plan could be easily replicated in other parishes, it was given priority in the grant review process. The first McDevitt grants were awared in 2011.

    To apply for a McDevitt grant, a parish must be part of the Diocese of Syracuse. For an evangelization grant, requested funds cannot exceed $10,000 and there is a precondition that the parish must have met its previous year’s HOPE Appeal goal (as recorded in the HOPE Appeal final report) prior to applying for a grant. Evangelization grants are geared toward innovative and new programs that can be replicated in other parishes; lower priority is given to applications that include facility improvements, overnight retreats, bus trips and attendance at events not connected to a plan, funds for Catholic School education or stand-alone parties or events that are not part of a larger plan.

   Food pantry McDevitt grants are given to parish operated food pantry programs. The grants cannot exceed $7,500, which should be used to purchase food items. There are no preconditions to the grant, but food pantry grants cannot be distributed as cash grants for individuals or organizations, gas or gift cards, or used for payment of utilities or personnel costs. In both cases, a McDevitt grant cannot be used to purchase equipment that should be funded under capital projects.

   In 2013, 50 evangelization grant requests were submitted and 32 grants were awarded for a total of $203,691.96. For food pantry grants in 2013, 36 grant requests were submitted and 25 grants were awarded for a total of $150,002.

   What type of programs qualifty for McDevitt grants? Here is a look at how some of the 2013 McDevitt grant recipients used the funds to make a difference in their parishes.

Welcome to the parish

   In a swirl of bright colors and smiles to match, a small group of young Congolese women in native dress danced down the aisle during the offertory at All Saints Parish in Syracuse Feb. 7. Parishioners clapped in time to the energetic beat of African music at the special Mass, held to welcome members of greater Syracuse’s Catholic Congolese community to the parish.

   The welcome project came about through a request from Frances Ndagijeim and a small community of refugees and families from the Congo already attending All Saints Church.

    “There are so many Congolese in Syracuse,” stated Ndagijeim. “They all live in a tight community as they did in Africa, but the majority, who are Catholic, don’t attend Mass because they don’t know where the Catholic churches are. We wanted to invite these people here today and increase not just their presence at All Saints, but invite them to create a community where we can all help each other.”

   When approached with the idea of holding a welcome Mass and reception, Father Fred Daley gave his full support of the idea. Funding for the event was made possible through the parish’s McDevitt evangelization grant.

   Invitations went out via word of mouth and volunteers came forward offering to help cook food, dance, sing Congolese hymns and read from the Gospel in Swahili. On the day of the welcome Mass, Congolese families streamed into All Saints Church, smiling at the colorful African cloth covering the altar and the warm greeting they were given by members of the parish.

   During the Mass parishioners also had the opportunity to hear from Mam-Yassin, the founder of Starfish International, a charity in Gambia, West Africa, that educates young women and builds their self-esteem and which All Saints Parish helps to support. In addition to Mam-Yassin, parishioners also heard directly from Madeline Kujabi, a recipient of a Starfish International grant that changed her life.

   As Mass ended with African dancers and voices lifted in song in their native Swahili, people clapped and cheered. At the reception, Father Daley looked around at the diverse sea of faces, both young and old, and smiled.

    “There are many Catholics in the Congolese community,” stated Father Daley. “Our plan today was to let them listen to the liturgy, experience some of their traditions and rituals and share with them our parish’s deep commitment of faith to Jesus Christ. Pope Francis tells us not to wait for people to come into the Church,” added Father Daley. “He tells us to go out and bring the Church to them and that is what we have done with this special welcome for the Congolese community. We give thanks, not only for the loving hearts of the people of this parish, but also for the gift of the McDevitt grant for making this happen here today.”
Monthly meal plan feeds those in need

   Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Liverpool received a McDevitt grant of $5,700 to enhance its food pantry with an innovative project called Monthly Meal Package.

  “The program has been very successful,” said Immaculate Heart of Mary’s Human Development Director Terry Lacey.

   The idea of offering a Monthly Meal Package to the clients came about after Lacey observed that the food that is commonly available to the families in the food pantry might not be what they are accustomed to eating or preparing. Many of the families, lacking time and energy, depend on packaged convenience foods as a quick way to feed their family. Because these foods are expensive, the clients sometimes run out of food that they have bought with their food stamps by the end of the month.

   Lacey noticed the pantry’s volunteers took time to explain how to prepare the foods that were offered to the clients. The clients listened, but usually didn’t follow through because they usually lacked one or two ingredients to prepare the meal.

  She devised a plan to distribute 60 meal packages, once per month, to her clients. The packet included a recipe for an economical, healthy main entrée and included all the necessary ingredients. The recipes are changed every month.

   Lacey’s intent was to introduce healthy, affordable meals to the clients. After learning how to make the dish, she hoped they would make it a part of their meal plan.

  The recipes are formulated to feed a family of four and the ingredients to prepare the meal cost no more than $8.

   Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioner Mary Barton, along with Mary Bill and Dale Caster, have been meeting once monthly since September for a few hours to write the recipes and put the ingredients together for the monthly meal packages. The women draw on their personal experiences of cooking for their families.

   “It’s been fun,” remarked Barton, of her involvement. “I’m from a big family, so I know what it’s like to stretch food for a meal.”

   The recipes the women have written for the packages include homemade chili with corn muffins, taco soup, sausage and noodle casserole, broccoli and cheese soup, chicken casserole, chicken with broccoli and hamburger casserole. The women also place vegetables in the package.

   “I think it’s a good program,” commented Barton. “We try to provide nutritious meals.”

   Lacey said that they have received some very positive feedback about the addition of the packages to the food pantry program. “They’re really happy to try new things,” she said.  

   Lacey said the funds from the McDevitt grant have helped immensely in responding to the needs of their community. By using McDevitt funds, the pantry can afford to obtain specific ingredients for the recipes.

   The Immaculate Heart of Mary food pantry serves up to 120 families per month and is open three days per week.

   Grant helps fund pantry

   Seton Food Pantry, Inc., an operation of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Baldwinsville, received a 2013 McDevitt grant of $7,500.

   The pantry, located in close proximity to three clusters of low-income housing, provided food to 4,631 individuals last year, according to Seton Food Pantry President E. Scott Brown. The pantry is open two mornings per week and one evening per month. The food is dispersed in amounts tailored to household size in increments of three meals per day for three days.  

   Brown said that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s parishioners provide much of the funding for the pantry, but the McDevitt grant has afforded the pantry security in its cash flow. “It’s been a significant help for the last year,” said Brown. “With the SNAP (food stamp program) being cut, it will be put to good use. It assures us that we are going to be able to continue to offer a top-notch program.”

   When the pantry opened in 1998, it operated as a pre-packed food pantry where the clients’ choice of food was limited.

   In 2009, the pantry began to operate as a Client Choice pantry. Clients are able to choose their food from various food groups. The method reduces waste, encourages the clients to eat well and the recipients appreciate that the food is not being forced on them. At that time they were providing a five-day meal package, and throughout the years, they were forced to reduce the number of meal packages to three days due to a decline in donations and a considerable increase in people using the pantry.

   Funds from the McDevitt grant have allowed the food pantry to stay afloat.

   Brown is extremely pleased with the opportunity to receive funds for the food pantry. “I’m very grateful for the way the diocese is operating the McDevitt grants,” he said. “They [McDevitt Grants] are a real boon to us. It’s an extremely cost-effective way to use this money.”   

Sandwich outreach ministry

   At St. Francis Xavier Church in Marcellus, another McDevitt recipient, the parishioners know how to make sandwiches. Each month on a rotating basis, following one of the regular Masses, more than 85 parishioners gather together in the church hall and begin the process of assembling 350 sandwiches for residents of the Catholic Charities Men’s Shelter (formerly the Oxford Street Inn), an emergency shelter for homeless men in Syracuse.

   “Parish outreach is something our church has been thirsting for,” said Jeff Dixe, co-chairperson of St. Francis Xavier’s parish council. “The inspiration for this program came initially from a confirmation service project. After teenagers made sandwiches and handed out socks, hats and gloves to residents at the Oxford Inn, one man looked up at us and said, ‘Are you coming back again?’ and I knew this was a ministry our church was called to do.”

   Dixe applied for a $10,000 evangelization McDevitt grant in 2013 for a program entitled, “Taking it to the Streets.” A portion of that program was dedicated to making sandwiches for the homeless at the shelter. The parish purchased enough peanut butter, jelly, bread, cold cuts and sandwich bags to make 350 sandwiches each month.

   Gina Powell, a parishioner at St. Francis Xavier for the past 15 years, signs up each month with her five children, ranging in age from five to 13, to help out with the sandwich ministry. “It’s easy to do since it’s a program that’s after church and we’re already there anyway,” explained Powell. “The program only takes about a half hour and the kids all know what they are doing helps feed hungry people. They enjoy helping. Even my youngest, who’s not the neatest sandwich maker, helps out. She’s a heck of a bagger,” laughed Powell.

   Dixe projects that by the end of the year the McDevitt Grant will have made it possible for the parish to donate over 4,000 sandwiches to the shelter. “Applying for the McDevitt grant was an incredible blessing,” said Dixe. “What we have done with this program has been truly transformative.”

Mission and youth ministry program

   Father Robert Kelly at St. Paul’s Church in Rome applied for a McDevitt evangelization grant for $10,000. The grant went to several programs including implementing a youth ministry program and organizing a parish mission.

   The parish mission, which attracted parishioners of all ages, brought guest speaker Father John Collins, CSP, a Paulist priest, to the parish in October 2013. For one hour each day for three days, Father Collins helped members of the parish deepen their faith in God through prayer.

   In regards to the youth ministry program, the parish, working with a youth minister and faith formation director, began efforts to create an innovative and interactive program for the church’s young adults. Several meetings were held to recruit young people and adults, and t-shirts were purchased to give the youth a sense of identity and mission. As the youth ministry continues to grow, plans are underway to send several youths to the Catholic Heart workcamp in Pittsburgh this summer.

   “The McDevitt grant has helped fund creative events and invite people to look at our faith in new ways,” explained Father Kelly. “With these programs people who otherwise might not come to our parish are now looking to join in and become a regular part of our community.”    

Evangelization through prayer program

   Immaculate Conception Parish in Pompey applied for a $4,000 evangelization grant to internally and externally reach out to parishioners through prayer. Using the funding from the grant, a faith-sharing group conducted a bible study that explored the spiritual roots of the Our Father. The parish also invited Joseph Girzone, author of Never Alone, a personal account of Girzone’s prayer life, and Jim Krisher, director of the Spiritual Renewal Center to speak to parishioners.  A new “hospitality area” with comfortable seating for small prayer groups was also created, replacing folding chairs and tables in the parish center.

   “[Applying for the McDevitt grant] allowed us to envision things we may not have taken the time to think of before,” stated Ann Derr, chairperson of Immaculate Conception’s parish administration committee. “Because we’re a small parish, [the funding] from the McDevitt grant allows us to do things we could never have done by ourselves.”

   Derr felt the application process for the McDevitt grant was “easy enough” and encourages other parishes to think creatively of new programs and apply for a grant in the coming year. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” quipped Derr.

Billboard campaign brings awareness to church

   St. James Church in Syracuse received a $10,000 McDevitt grant for what has turned out to be a highly successful evangelization campaign. The funds have been a blessing to the parish and the surrounding area.  

   In his McDevitt Grant Mid-Year Report, St. James’ Pastor Father John Manno explained that one of the goals of the campaign was to “enhance the faith of those already practicing so they could go out and give witness to the faith of others.”

   Those involved have strengthened their faith through the many opportunities offered through the McDevitt grant. The biggest advantage was having the funds to pay for billboard advertising to promote the parish.
The billboards throughout the city have made a tremendous impact, fulfilling the parish’s  goal to reach out to people on Syracuse’s south side. Every week, new people are showing up at Mass.

   Father Manno said that people are now more responsive to what is going on in the parish. Parishioners who had only attended Mass are now coming to other events. Fifty people participated in a pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville, N.Y., representing 10 parishes other than St. James. On Oct. 7, 2013, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, 125 people from at least five other parishes participated in a Rosary and Candlelight Procession at St. James.

  Father Manno is thankful that he can offer opportunities to help enhance people’s faith. “The thought that it might bring one person
back to God — it’s worth it, and we wouldn’t be able to do it without the grant,” he said.

   For more information on McDevitt grants, contact the Office of Stewardship and Development at (315) 472-0203 or visit


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