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“I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Something to Eat”

By Nancy Rosebush Schertzing | Photography by Jim Luning

“I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Something to Eat”

Kim Leads St. Jude’s Parish Food Drive

For more than 40 years, the Catholic Community of St. Jude in DeWitt has celebrated Lent with a project they call Food for the Poor. Kim Scherschligt and Deacon Rob Strouse now shepherd this remarkable effort, passed on to them by legends of an earlier time.

“I did a little research and found that St. Jude started Food for the Poor back in 1979,” Deacon Rob explains. “I don’t have many details, except that Joan Overway helped organize it back then. People affectionately called her ‘General Joan’ (though she was a Navy Veteran) because she had everything organized so smoothly and with such love.”

Kim nods, “I remember that Joan and her husband wintered in Florida, but she was so dedicated she would fly back just to direct the project. And it was appreciated because there are so many pieces to this effort.

“Food for the Poor is a wonderful, wonderful parish program! It gives everyone at St. Jude a way to serve our neighbors who aren’t as fortunate as we are. Entire families volunteer to donate, distribute and deliver food to social service agencies that serve families in need around our area. In 2019, the parish provided food to 110 families – including 150 adults and close to 200 children.”

Deacon Rob agrees. “It’s a great example of Matthew 25: ‘For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.’ Our community is blessed with resources to share, and this is a beautiful opportunity to follow Christ’s teaching in that passage.

“In fact, Food for the Poor was my first experience of St. Jude’s parish-wide outreach ministry. Father Dwight Ezop [former pastor at St. Jude] told me, ‘Rob, you have to see this!’ I just watched in amazement at all the families, kids, all the food donated. Some folks came in with pick-up trucks full of food to share.”

Whatever you do for the least of these …

“Beginning around Ash Wednesday, we reach out to social service agencies that provide crucial needs to families, including Advent House, EVE’s Organization, Loaves and Fishes Ministries, MSU Safe Place, St. Vincent’s Refugee Services, and The Safe Center,” Kim explains. “Several of these sponsor shelters.

“We offer to partner with these agencies by providing food boxes to their clients in need. They only share information on family sizes to protect their clients’ privacy. Then, once we know the numbers, the parish begins preparing for the food collection, ordering and distribution.

“Early in Holy Week, we follow Joan’s original process by labeling boxes with the agency information. For me, this becomes emotional. Every single box we label represents a family in distress, and there are so very many children.” Kim confides, “I cherish and I dread placing the boxes around the parish hall because they offer quite a visual of poverty in our community. This project tends to get me out of my safe little bubble to recognize the hardships so many face.

“Throughout Holy Week, then, St. Jude families bring mostly nonperishable food items into the parish hall. They are asked to donate the amount of food that would feed their whole family for one day. The generosity is so evident! Tables are set up across the parish hall like grocery store shelves, and volunteers sort and organize the donations by category.

“Many parishioners also donate money that Deacon Rob uses to buy milk, butter, eggs, bread, fresh fruits and vegetables and meat to supplement the dry goods. Yet another group of volunteers helps with purchasing and pick-up of these perishables.

“Finally, on Good Friday morning, volunteers from all walks of life gather in the parish hall. Parents bring children of all ages. Deacon Rob blesses us and the food just as Deacon Ted Heutsche did before him.”

Deacon Rob agrees. “It is truly a labor of love. The thought of how our parish families come together to bring so much good to families in need – that’s where my heart lies. That first year as I watched Deacon Ted bless the food and workers, he became very emotional about the number of families, parishioners of all ages who participated, and the families on the receiving end.”

“Food for the Poor always deeply touched Deacon Ted,” Kim smiles fondly. “It’s very moving to see the family-to-family connections, especially when the children choose food for kids their own age. Seeing the reality of poverty and doing something positive to help, that brings good to our world and to so many.

“Then after the blessing and prayers, everyone starts filling the boxes with food. Our volunteers move from table to table, ‘shopping’ for those identified on their boxes, choosing foods they think their recipients will like. I would say each family usually fills about three boxes.

“After all the boxes are filled, they get sealed, and another group of volunteers, including teens, load them into vans, trucks and cars for delivery. Volunteer drivers caravan in groups of three to five vehicles to their assigned agencies.

“When the agency staff and some of the sheltered families greet them, it really brings home the connections made through this project. Unloading the bountiful gifts from our parish family is a true blessing.”

… you do to me.

“Christ gave us a beautiful example that we follow through Food for the Poor,” Deacon Rob observes. “He calls us to recognize the needs of others and to serve and feed those in their need. And when we do, we join together, rich and poor, in remembering the Eucharist that will nourish us on Easter. It is a beautiful expression.”

“I am so thankful to Joan for her leadership, and all the volunteers over the years who firmly rooted this special Lenten project in our parish,” Kim exclaims. “Food for the Poor has taught me not to shy away from personal encounters with people in poverty. It’s one thing to give money, but entirely another to experience Jesus Christ when we can serve people in need. Seeing the joy of those in the shelters when we unload our gifts, we see Jesus.”