By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 7, 2010
Cheerios cereal, mac-n-cheese boxes, beets and apple juice brought the plastic bag to the breaking point.
The bags wait for the monthly giveaway at the food pantry run by St. Vincent de Paul Society volunteers at St. James the Apostle Church, McDonough.
“We try to put so much stuff in it and they tear,” said Marsha Weeks, the coordinator for the five-month-old food pantry called St. Vincent de Paul Connecting Hearts Food Pantry, located in a McDonough Housing Authority building.
It is a ministry done by parishioners that relies on donations from the parish, Protestant churches, and the Boy and Girl Scouts.
“It is 100 percent a community effort. Without the other people, we wouldn’t have the food we have now,” said Weeks, taking time away from preparing bags for pickup.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. James is one of 70 local conferences in North Georgia. Its mission is to serve the poor and help individuals establish stable and productive lives.
Weeks, who is 61 and a mother of two children she adopted from foster care, oversees the pantry. She first got involved in this type of service a few years ago when she managed a food pantry at a Catholic church in Mount Vernon, N.Y. It served as many as 300 people a month.
Earlier this year, she volunteered to help at what was then called the Angel Food program. The minister who ran the pantry announced she was ready to move on to other projects so the local St. Vincent de Paul group stepped in.
Officially, in August, it became a ministry of the group.
“The services are still needed. It is a good place to reference and get some help. It is an asset to us,” said Mary Williams, executive director of the McDonough Housing Authority. “They are a blessing to the community.”
Signs of economic distress are great. The unemployment rate in the state is in double digits. The numbers of people relying on food stamps rose 31 percent since 2008.
Here in McDonough, folks line up to collect the food close to an hour before the doors to the Connecting Hearts Food Pantry open.
The food pantry is located in a space used once as a police precinct. The pantry pays the utilities, but does not pay rent. They serve the low- to moderate-income residents living in the 118 apartment units, along with the wider community.
The project, with its nearly dozen volunteers, gives out food on the third Saturday of the month to walk-in clients. The rest of the month it is open by appointment only. Weeks said she would serve upwards of 80 people and has seen a steady increase as word gets around.
“I’m a big sap,” said Weeks as she recalled how once a stranger hugged her on the street and thanked her for food. “I didn’t know that guy from Adam.”
Tammy Thomas, 67, who is retired, said taking on the food pantry project helps the volunteers fulfill Jesus’ mandate to feed the hungry. She is the leader of the St. Vincent de Paul Society ministry at St. James the Apostle Church.
“We have so many people who work hard and are struggling just to keep their utilities on and a roof over their heads. They don’t qualify for food stamps but still have a family to feed,” she said.
It is just one of the projects of this St. Vincent de Paul chapter. It also organizes a Christmas Angel Tree, fills Easter baskets with goodies for senior citizens and holds an annual picnic for the seniors. The most ambitious task is preventing people from becoming homeless and keeping their utilities on, Thomas said.
For information visit www.stjamesmcdonough.com