The generous faithful of Immaculate Conception parish in Stony Point are hoping their help will yield a more fruitful Thanksgiving for those who have been living on less.
Their cornucopia of giving includes a gift card for a turkey from a local grocery store and, from the parishioner donors themselves, a bag of packaged fixings to accompany the turkey—stuffing, cornbread, cranberries and sweet potatoes, as well as desserts.
All the goods are being distributed through the parish’s food pantry located in a former convent behind the church. The exterior of the food pantry was recently painted barn red by a Boy Scout for his Eagle Scout project. Another Boy Scout, for his Eagle Scout project, plans to paint the building’s interior.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused a surge in the number of Rockland County families served there weekly in a contactless, drive-through capacity, according to Deacon Philip Marino and his wife, Pat, who operate the pantry with the help of 12 volunteers. The Marinos spoke with CNY by phone last week.
“Because of Covid, so many people have lost their jobs,” Mrs. Marino said. “Our numbers are unprecedented that we’re feeding every week.”
Typically, the parish food bank would serve approximately 50 families a week, with added families during the holidays. The numbers are now between 100 and 110 families a week.
It is important that those coming to the food pantry feel comfortable, Mrs. Marino said. “Some of them are so embarrassed. Some people will say, ‘I never thought I’d be coming to the food pantry. I had a good job.’
Before the coronavirus, the client families served at the parish food pantry were primarily the working poor, as well some elderly and some on disability, Mrs. Marino explained. “Now, a lot of those jobs are even gone. But we also have some people coming now that had really good paying jobs but maybe didn’t lose their job but are furloughed temporarily. They don’t even want to look at us when they come in, they’re so embarrassed.”
To quell any uneasiness, Deacon Marino said, it is important to get to know the clients. When he greets them, he also lightens their load by kidding around with them. “We want them to understand that their dignity is not diminished because they come to us, but that we’re all working together,” he said. “We see this whole program, and our volunteers do as well, as living the Gospel message. We’re strengthened by the Lord and the Holy Spirit.”
Those who reside in the parish or elsewhere in Rockland County are eligible to receive goods from the Immaculate Conception food pantry. “We take new families all the time,” Mrs. Marino said. “Sometimes families go back to work and they stop coming, and new families come. All they need to do is show up at the food pantry on any Friday; we’re open for clients starting at 3 o’clock” until 5:30 p.m.
The recipients are abundantly gracious in their thanks and gratitude, the Marinos said.
The food pantry benefits “from a very giving community,” Deacon Marino said, beginning with the parishioners of Immaculate Conception and extending to the community through business owners, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
The Stony Point ShopRite provides the bags in which the food pantry groceries are packed, as well as a grant which includes ShopRite gift cards, coupons for free gallons of milk, and the like. The day CNY spoke with the Marinos, the local firehouse had donated 50 gift cards.
“We could not function as a food pantry without the help of our fantastic, wonderful volunteers who give so freely of their time and energy,” Deacon Marino said.
“For the foreseeable future, the need is going to be great,” he added.
Father Herbert DeGaris, pastor of Immaculate Conception, is proud of his parishioners who faithfully practice the corporal works of mercy. “There’s a deep understanding, ‘There for the grace of God go I,’ I hear many times,” he said. The pastor added some also share such sentiments as, “‘I was in need years ago and the food pantry was there for me and now it’s my time to be there for others.’
“There is a very clear understanding and comprehension of that corporal work of mercy, ‘Whatever you do for the least of my brothers you do unto me.’”
“During this time of uncertainty,” Father DeGaris concluded, “we know that we’re not alone. We know God is with us, watching over us as our Father. We are strengthened in our resolve as disciples of Christ to see this through.”