Saint Hilda's House

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Filtering by Tag: Loaves and Fishes

Helping Loaves and Fishes

By Will Oxford

A question I get quite a bit when telling people about my job at Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry and Clothing Closet is: “What do you guys need more of?”   I think they sometimes expect me to say things like, “More canned veggies” or, “we could really use some tuna.” But, when I'm being really honest, I make sure and say that we could always use money.  Don't get me wrong: we are always happy to receive boxes of canned food, crates full of fresh produce, and bags of clothes for our clothing closet. These things are without a doubt going to impact the lives of our guests who come in every Saturday.  The thing about money is that we can use it to get things that people might not consider a food pantry having to deal with.  For example, we need it to order paper goods for our hospitality table, which serves over 300 guests a week coffee and something sweet before they get in line for their bag; we need it to make sure the undercroft where we feed our guests each week is safe and warm; and we need it to make much needed changes to our physical pantry, so that we can accommodate our rising number of guests each month.  You might be thinking, “That’s great and all, but I’m not in a place where I can give cash. What can I do?”  Well my friends, for the next 8 days here is how you can help:

We are currently in a competition to receive a $20,000 grant from Wal-Mart.  For us to win the money, we have to be one of the top 75 vote getting pantries out of the 150 competing.  At the time of this post being written we are currently number 42, so not high enough for me to be completely confident just quite yet.  This is where you come in!  

I’ll give you the site to go to in a bit, but before you vote, please make sure you are voting for “Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry and Clothing Closet” in New Haven, CT. Loaves and Fishes seems to be a popular name for food pantries (I wonder why….), so there are a lot in the competition. I’m sure they are all well deserving of your vote, but let me tell you what issues we are facing and how we would spend the money, and hopefully you’ll see how desperately needed this grant is for Loaves & Fishes, New Haven.

We are currently the largest food pantry in New Haven, one of the poorest, hungriest cities in the country.  Our numbers have been growing exponentially since 2012, and they have exploded over the past 6 months.  We served the same number of guests through July of this year as we did the entire year of 2013.  We do not have the storage space currently to hold the amount of produce and meat that are needed each week. This grant would help us purchase a walk-in freezer and fridge which would automatically make our storage capabilities more suited to the current need we face.  We would also use some of these funds to hire a part time chef to come in each week, and prepare a recipe containing the items our guests receive in their weekly bag.  Samples of the recipe would be handed out on Saturdays as well as printed recipe cards in both English and Spanish.

Friends, I urge you to go to www.walmart.com/holidaymakeover every day for the next 8 days and vote for “Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry and Clothing Closet.”  No matter your thoughts on Wal-Mart, know that this grant is going to impact lives in an important way. Thank you for your help and support!

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'Lord, When Did We See You Hungry?': Working With Loaves and Fishes

By Will Oxford

Exodus 17: 1-6: The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”  But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

In modern Christian society it is quite typical to hear people say they are “hungry for God” or “thirsting for God.”  To quote a sermon I heard this past Sunday, however, “sometimes the children of God are just too hungry and thirsty to think about anything else besides food and water.”  If I learn anything this year from working at Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry, I hope it is the simple fact that, when people are hungry and thirsty in the wilderness, all other cares and concerns fall by the wayside and we have to meet those people where they are.

Loaves and Fishes has one of the richest traditions of Food Pantries in New Haven.  Every Saturday since 1982, rain or shine, holiday or not, anyone who wishes to can show up at 9am and receive a bag of food.  Loaves & Fishes offers one grocery bag of canned, non-perishable and fresh food every week, as well as a stocked clothing closet where guests can receive up to 15 items (depending on availability).  Each bag contains at least two proteins, carbohydrates, dairy sources, vegetables, and a starch.  Instead of offering empty calories, Loaves and Fishes places an emphasis on a healthy well balanced bag, typically full of fresh produce, whole grains, and frozen meat when available.  With the help of countless volunteers, Loaves and Fishes has now reached a point where it is able to give out on average around 300 bags of food per week.

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When I first told friends and family that I was moving to New Haven to do a year of service, more often than not I was faced with a quizzical expression and a series of questions.  “New Haven?  Isn’t that where Yale is?  That’s not the type of place I imagine a lot of service work needs to be done.”  Just like Durham, NC, (home of Duke University) New Haven is a city where the prestigious school at its center takes the focus away from the grittiness and condition of its actual residents.  Saint Hilda’s House is lucky enough to be nestled at the heart of downtown, right across the street from an Apple store and the Yale bookshop (which happens to double as a Barnes and Noble bookseller, complete with Starbucks café).  With all that said, if I or any of my housemates were to walk several blocks in any direction, we would be in neighborhoods and communities that would be called “sketchy” or perceived as dangerous places to find ourselves.  These neighborhoods, however, happen to be the places where we work, serving with a population that is sometimes seen as second class or undeserving of the city’s attention.  These are the places where, more often than not, I find it far more comfortable to be myself than on the quads or inside the buildings of Yale.

This is not least because of the inequality revealed by taking that walk down several blocks.  Connecticut is the richest state in the country when ranked by per capita income: I therefore find it incredibly disturbing that 1 out of 5 children in the state are hungry, that 80% of the children in New Haven are on free or reduced lunch programs, and that countless household have to choose between food, and paying their monthly utility bills.  This is why organizations like Loaves and Fishes, and the Community Soup Kitchen, operated out of Christ Church’s parish hall, are so significant to the people of New Haven. Despite the fact that organizations like these are still fitted with the title of “emergency” pantries or kitchens, there are residents who show up daily for what might be their only meal, or for whom a bag every Saturday morning amounts to their weekly grocery shopping.  It seems to me that there is a constant state of emergency for many in New Haven without access to food and nourishment.  

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?”  This question that Jesus uses in Mark’s Gospel has been weighing on me quite heavily so far this year.  The past three Saturdays, the first which I have spent my mornings working at the food pantry, have had their ups and downs.  Opening the doors and greeting people as they come in has been particularly rewarding, however.  I have had a chance to talk with the people we’re serving, to ask them how they are.  More likely than not, I've been blessed with a positive reaction to my presence, and though it is sometimes not, this is ok too, because I have no idea where the people I work with are coming from or what they’re going back to after they exit back through our doors.  

It is not my job to fix all of New Haven’s problems.  It is my job to make sure that anyone who shows up at 57 Olive Street from 9-10:30 on a Saturday morning will get a bag of food, have a safe environment to do so, get a smile at the door, and know that they are welcome.  For as Jesus tells us in the answer to his question, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

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