Saint Raphael Pantry and Hope Chest

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matt 25:35-36, 40)

When Saint Benedict tells the monks in his Holy Rule “all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ,” (RB 53:1) he wants to show us that those who come to our door summon us to practical charity, mutual respect and human solidarity. Each week, between 40 to 60 individuals and families in need receive assistance from the Saint Raphael Food Pantry and Hope Chest, a visible witness of how Christ’s command to “love one another as I have love you” is taken up by our parish, inspired by Saint Benedict’s guide to Gospel-living (John 13:34-35).  Since 1989, Saint Raphael Parish, a Benedictine parish under the care of Saint Anselm Abbey, has sponsored its food pantry. 

 The Team of Volunteers

The current manager of the Saint Raphael Food Pantry and Hope Chest is Dorene Turner, former Director of Facilities at the parish. Dorene is available at (603) 647-2283, through the parish office at (603) 623-2604 or through email at foodpantry@saint-raphael-parish.com.

In order to accomplish all of this each and every week, we have a host of volunteers. On Monday morning, three teams rotate picking up the goods from Hannaford’s.  Monday mornings during the school year, Saint Benedict Academy’s sixth grade students voluntarily bring the weekend’s donations from Masses down to the basement of the rectory to be sorted. A long table is set up in the back hallway at the rectory where the students bring up the brown paper bags of groceries to be distributed to the clients that night.

During the week, a team of “baggers” comes in to fill bags with specific items of food listed in the food pantry.  Each bag contains most of the ingredients for approximately five meals. Five bagging teams alternate each week and prepare 60 bags of food for distribution the following Monday evening.  Four additional teams alternate Monday nights to oversee the operation, making sure everything is where it should be. They also stock the shelves with food brought in that morning. If we are having a very busy week and begin to run out of bags of food, they fill up additional bags to distribute.  Five other teams alternate working on Monday nights.

Before the pantry opens for the night, all the volunteers gather for a brief service of prayer, initiated by Father Jerome J. Day, O.S.B., our current pastor. The prayer, usually led by the week’s team captain, emphasizes that the pantry is first a ministry to extend the love of Christ. One person helps people sort through donated “gently used” clothing or footwear to find sizes that might fit them or their children. Two people work in the office doing the paperwork and checking identification and allotting the number of bags for that week. Two others give out bread, pastries and whatever else we might have to offer that night. They help the folks select what they want and often help them bring their bags to the car or in some cases across the street to their homes.

While most volunteers are parishioners, we are happy to have Saint Anselm College students involved in the pantry too. Nursing students have come down to Saint Raphael from the Hilltop to do blood pressure checks weekly. They also administer flu shots in the fall with the help of a Visiting Nurse Association supervisor. Students from the Meelia Center for Community Service, the volunteer clearinghouse at Saint Anselm College, have been with us for the last two years. One student in particular has launched a campaign to gather cloth bags for the people to carry their groceries in and bring back for reuse. Some of the pantry’s most valuable, veteran volunteers come from neighboring Catholic parishes and other Christian communities in the city. We are grateful to all of them!

Serving Our Neighbors

Each week, neighbors from the West Side of Manchester come to the parish to seek assistance with groceries and other needs. A client intake form is required. The form asks name, address, date of birth, rent, type of identification, and ID number. The form includes proof of residence such as a utility bill, rent receipt, etc. Information is also required of all residents living in a household and their dates of birth. Clients must also indicate the agencies and programs from which they receive, such as Social Security, Food Stamps, WIC, Welfare, AFDC, Salvation Army and SSI.

Since its inception, the food pantry has grown to include a hope chest, which provides limited clothing assistance. The Saint Raphael Food Pantry and Hope Chest is one of the parish’s largest ministries, offering not only practical assistance, useful information and encouragement to those under financial duress but also providing parishioners and friends of the parish a means of extending the compassionate hand of Christ.

The New Hampshire Food Bank, an agency of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Manchester, has helped us to branch out and serve many more needy people in our parish and anyone in need on the West Side. We have also recently become a member of the Community Action Program of Belknap-Merrimack Counties Inc. This agency distributes USDA foods bi-monthly, and there is no charge. We have been able to obtain some meat and poultry, in addition to canned fruits and vegetables, spaghetti and spaghetti sauce, soup and cereal. The offerings may be limited sometimes, but the Community Action program always has product that we can pass along to our clients. Hannaford’s supermarket generously gives us day-old bread and pastries every Monday morning for distribution Monday night. All of this has been very much appreciated.

Today, the pantry continues to rely on the generosity of parishioners and friends of Saint Raphael, and they never fail us. Many parishioners have requested memorial donations in their name be given to the food pantry at their time of death. Such generosity helps support a program that assists newcomers to Manchester from Nigeria, Congo, Somalia, Bhutan, Nepal, Romania, India, Pakistan, Brazil and elsewhere, as well as longtime local residents who may be experiencing economic difficulties.

History of the Food Pantry

Father Simon J. O’Donnell, O.S.B., was pastor when the pantry began as a means of sacrifice and almsgiving during Lent. The response and generosity was overwhelming and so began the early days of the food pantry.  Under the direction of Father Simon, Jackie Bessette, Diane Desjardins, Therese Dame, Dorene Turner, Elaine Lucci and Annette Gray started a routine that would begin our weekly distributions.

Over the years, under the direction of Father Bede G. Camera, O.S.B., who succeeded Father Simon, the pantry has evolved into an important ministry, passing from Anne Duplessis to Terry and Chuck Langton, then to Bob Ackerson, who passed it on to David and Kathy Yee. Many people have held responsibility for the management and distribution of the food, and countless men and women have worked in the background shopping, stocking shelves, filling bags in the rectory basement and carrying them upstairs for distribution, sharing God’s blessings with those in need.