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Spotsylvania parish opens new food pantry/baby closet

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For years, St. Matthew Church in Spotsylvania housed its food pantry and baby closet in a nearby shopping center. But the room was too cramped and the rent was too high — in short, the space left much to be desired, said Barbara Brandao, food pantry manager. So with the support of Father Paul M. Eversole, pastor, and Deacon John A. Hubbarth, they erected a building on church grounds to better serve the hungry and needy in their community. 

The larger space provides storage for food and infant items, and meeting space for diocesan Catholic Charities counselors to see clients. Now, the parish grounds have facilities to nourish the body, mind and soul, said Art Bennett, president and CEO of diocesan Catholic Charities. “That inspires all of us,” he said. “You always want to see that integration.”

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge blessed the new building Oct. 3. But before the ceremony, volunteers spent the early morning hours doing what they always do on the first Saturday of the month — serving those in need

The new food pantry was designed to be market style, where clients can walk through the space to pick out what they like and need off the shelves. But since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, volunteers assemble the bags of food for them, doing their best to accommodate clients’ preferences. 

The volunteers also changed something else to make life easier for the clients — combining the hours of the food pantry and baby closet. “Since folks are coming and they’re in need, they probably don’t have gas money to come on two different days,” said Deborah Betts, baby closet manager. “Before, they would have to come at certain hours for the food pantry and maybe wait an hour for the baby closet to open. Now, we have united our hours so we’re basically a one-stop shop.”

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge blesses those gathered at the St. Matthew Food Pantry/Baby Closet in Spotsylvania Oct. 3. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD 

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In addition to partnering with other parish ministries such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the pantry works with diocesan Catholic Charities. The organization donates many of the diapers the baby closet distributes, said Betts. The pantry also serves as a depot for Catholic Charities’ St. Lucy Project. Boxes of food are dropped off there, then transported to seven other food pantries in areas including the Northern Neck. 

Last year, the St. Matthew food pantry distributed nearly 112,000 pounds of food, feeding an average of 783 individuals a month. The baby closet served 1,089 families, providing parents with items such as wipes, baby bottles and toiletries. The mobile pantry program took food and baby items to the other end of the county for clients to pick up. An “army of volunteers” helps with client intake, sorting and collecting donations from Panera Bread and Wegmans, said Brandao. Local churches, including several Catholic churches, help keep the pantry stocked. 

Before blessing the building, Bishop Burbidge toured the new facility. He saw the wall of refrigerators filled with meat, eggs and dairy products, and walked through the rows of diapers, formula, peanut butter, canned vegetables and spaghetti. He admired the soft baby blankets and stuffed animals donated by local crafters. 

Bishop Burbidge thanked the community for serving those in need with love and compassion. “We know that whatever we do for the Lord, he’s going to multiply it in ways that we can’t even imagine,” he said. “Our prayer today is that God will continue to bless your initiatives and your hard work.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020