Feeding the hungry is a big part of Catholic Charities mission.
Although the nonprofit seeks to reflect “the compassion of God in Christ,” taught by the Catholic Church in all its activities, through its food program Catholic Charities seeks to put that “compassion into action” by opening its doors to anyone in need regardless of race or religion.
“We know the issue of food insecurity is prevalent in our community because we see the same families coming back to our food pantry multiple times during the year,” said Lauren Weedon Hopkins, Jacksonville regional director. “I believe providing healthy and nutritious meals through our food pantry is a vital part of Catholic Charities’ mission to advocate for human dignity and quality of life.”
Catholic Charities’ food pantry is open twice a week – Wednesday and Friday – from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at its downtown location on East Church Street. Clients are assigned tickets beginning at 11 a.m. on the days of distribution. The pantry serves up to 80 client families a week and allows clients to receive food every 90 days.
Catholic Charities’ food pantry distributes food from Feeding Northeast Florida, Farm Share, Waste Not-Want Not, and generous donations from food drives in the community. The pantry also purchases food and other items needed to supplement what is not donated, said Hopkins.
During the fiscal year 2016-2017, the food pantry distributed 105,872 pounds of food, serving 3,360 client families, Hopkins said. According to its 2015-2016 Annual Report, the Jacksonville regional food pantry served 7,227 individuals and doled out 135,951 pounds of food. It also provided holiday assistance to 799 individuals.
The pantry, which is currently pursuing a “client-choice model,” allowing participants to make their own healthy food selections, is always in need of nonperishable food items such as canned black beans, chili, soup, meat and spaghetti sauce. Rice, packaged in one- and three-pound bags, is also welcome, as is cereal and peanut butter and jelly. Donations of furniture and household items for its refugee resettlement program are also needed.
Funding for the food pantry comes from grants, fundraising events such as Festival d’Vine and the Black and White Ball, and individual donors. Volunteers are always needed. The pantry is successful due to “tireless support” of its volunteers, Hopkins said.
“A program such as this requires a steady stream of new volunteers to supplement this compassionate service to our community. Donations of healthy food and other resources to stock our shelves are always welcome,” she said.
“Our program continues to provide for the most vulnerable in our community because of the generosity of donors,” Hopkins continued. “Often, our food pantry clients receive multiple services from Catholic Charities including emergency assistance to pay rent or utility bills. Typically, our clients are struggling to stay in their homes, find jobs, and make ends meet. This leads our clients to have to choose which vital resources are most important at the time.”
The Catholic Charities Food Pantry recently started a partnership with the St. Vincent’s Mobile Healthcare Outreach unit so it can combine the delivery of health screenings with food assistance, said Hopkins.
“Our agency alone is not able to solve the issue of food insecurity, but when we partner and collaborate with other community organizations such as United Way and Feeding Northeast Florida, we are able to multiply our success,” Hopkins said. “We are one of more than 50 food pantries in Jacksonville. Together, we are stronger and more innovative, allowing us to be true game changers in the fight to provide basic needs for those in our community in Jacksonville.”