Albany’s story of hope

The community garden outside the Sister Maureen Joyce Center was once an abandoned lot in a low-income neighborhood in Albany, N.Y. Today, it provides fresh fruits and vegetables to the center's soup kitchen, where nearly 130 people gather three times a week for a lunch made from scratch by volunteers like Lois Keefrider.

Keefrider praises the Garden of Feedin' and the fresh produce it provides. But for the people she serves, it's about more than the food.

"It's a whole community aspect of being around the table," said Keefrider. "Many of these people are homeless, and this is their home, this is their family."

The abandoned-lot-turned-fruitful-garden is a symbol of the center's mission: to bring hope - and a home - to neighbors who are struggling.

Whether they've just lost their job, or have been battling an addiction for years, everyone and anyone is welcome. "There is no requirement to walk in the door," said Keefrider, who began volunteering as a chef in 2007 to fulfill requirements for culinary school. "It was the perfect way to use my passion to create nutritious meals for people in need."

Keefrider and her fellow volunteers make a special effort to ensure the meals are nutritious, knowing that for many guests, it's the only time they're able to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Served at every meal is a salad made with fresh greens from the garden.

But the garden is more than a place to grow food; it brightens up a neighborhood composed of concrete, abandoned lots, addiction and unemployment.

"These people's lives are so difficult - in a way that my sons and I can never fathom," said Maria Barbieri, whose teenaged sons, Charlie and Michael, started the Garden of Feedin.'

"The idea that we can, in some tiny way, communicate with them that they matter, that their neighborhood matters and that they deserve to have beauty outside their window just like everyone else - that is important to me."

In addition to the soup kitchen and community garden, the Sister Maureen Joyce Center houses a food pantry that supplies 300 households each month with nutritious food and cooking supplies. Young families with children are able to obtain diapers, formula, clothing and strollers at Mary's Corner, the center's ministry for young families.

The Sister Maureen Joyce Center receives funding from CRS Rice Bowl donations - from the 25 percent designated for local use by the Diocese of Albany's CRS Rice Bowl collection.

Find out more

Contact Carla Walsh, diocesan coordinator for Catholic Relief Services, at 703/841-3839 or cwalsh@ccda.net.

Paul McAvoy | CATHOLIC CHARITIES

First grade students from St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School in Delmar, N.Y., install plants in the Garden of Feedin', a community garden.

Penne della Palma

Recipe courtesy of Fr. Leo Patalinghug

gracebeforemeals.com

Makes 4 servings

1 pound penne pasta

1 14-ounce can hearts of palm

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

1/4 cup parsley, minced

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

1 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs butter

1/2 cup brandy

1/2 cup starchy pasta water

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/2 Tbs salt and pepper (or to taste)

Boil pasta until al dente. Drain water, but reserve 1/2 cup of starchy pasta water. Drain water from hearts of palm and cut into 1/4-inch pieces. In a large pan, heat olive oil and butter, then saute garlic, parsley, tomatoes, and hearts of palm. Add cheese and breadcrumbs, and combine. Add brandy, water, and cream (Be careful: cooking with liquor is flammable). Add pasta and mix together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add a drizzle of olive oil and a dusting of grated Parmesan cheese for more flavor.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015