By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published November 20, 2018 | En Español
WOODSTOCK—Sam Nappi was part of the team at St. Michael the Archangel Church that drove boxes of food to half a dozen families a week.
Volunteers with the parish food pantry now help about 320 families monthly in this Cherokee County community.
As more demands were put on the ministry, the deliveries stopped and pantry space has grown.
“We haven’t had empty shelves. We might have one or two items that are empty. Our parishioners have been tremendous,” said Nappi, the volunteer manager of the ministry. “I hardly ever have to go to the grocery store.”
He is retired from BellSouth and repairing cables. He’s been with the ministry for more than 10 years.
This parish dedicated a new food pantry on Friday, Nov. 9. It is a long way from the small closet where the early members of the ministry initially stored food.
Father Larry Niese, the pastor, attended the morning dedication, along with Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III. The building sits at a prominent location on the parish campus, which is symbolically important, said Father Niese. “It’s at a high point. It’s showing we see outreach as important,” he said.
“You see people in need. We still treat them with respect,” longtime volunteer Verda Lyles said. “The Lord asks us to take care of the poor. We can all go through the situation.”
Giving at the year’s end
The final months of the year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are days when people tend to give generously. Nearly 20 percent of charitable donations in a year come in December alone.
Churches ministries collect the donations for gifts, food and other items to give away.
Many parish St. Vincent de Paul organizations are busy this time of year. At St. Marguerite d’Youville Church, Lawrenceville, the ministry gave out gift cards recently to 150 families to purchase Thanksgiving meals. In Flowery Branch, the members of Prince of Peace SVdP organized a two-day Thanksgiving drive, with a distribution of food to more than 80 clients.
Cherokee County with its high household income of some $76,000, is not a place you’d expect to see hundreds a month come to a food pantry.
But according to 2017 numbers from the Census Bureau, 10 percent of the community under the age of 18 lives below the poverty level. In Georgia, the overall number of those living below the poverty level is 21 percent.
However, Father Niese said the community is complex.
“There are $300,000 to $400,000 homes, but not too far we have trailer parks,” he said.
Susan Nappi, who serves alongside her husband, said the only people surprised at the need would be those who don’t live it themselves.
“You forget that others out there have a very big need,” she said.
In the Great Recession, business workers who had been laid off relied on food pantries, while today’s clients include blue-collar workers and grandparents raising grandchildren.
People who study poverty examine hunger, but also look at food insecurity—when people are without reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food. The nonprofit Feeding America counted nearly 18,000 people in Cherokee County living in food insecurity.
The archdiocesan Justice & Peace Ministries hosted a recent workshop on food insecurity, called “Food and Garden as Social Obligation.” An interfaith effort, it will soon promote workshops on sustainable community gardens collaborating with food pantries.
Kat Doyle, the ministry director, said food pantries serve a critical role in helping curb hunger with charity, but the church promotes advocacy for justice on behalf of the poor, making sure government policies and others address the causes of hunger.
“There is enough food to feed everybody, but how it is distributed” can be reformed and improved, said Doyle.
Third home for St. Michael pantry
This building is the third home for the pantry on the parish campus. Through parishioner donations, the new building was erected at a cost of more than $200,000, said Father Niese. One of its amenities was building it all on one floor. Stairs in the former rectory-turned-food pantry created problems for visitors and volunteers. The general contractor was Mike Minnick of A1 Construction in Acworth.
Father Niese said a goal for the ministry—those who volunteer and the many who contribute to its work—is that “they see the face of Christ in those they are serving.”
In addition to helping clients, the ministry enriches the parish community, said the pastor, in his 14th year in Woodstock. There are some 3,100 registered households at the church, enough that some people may feel disconnected. The priest hopes as parishioners shelve food, unload boxes and serve women and men, the ministry will become a glue to build bonds between people who see each other in the pews, he said.
The pantry is open three days a week. The food largely comes from BJ’s Wholesale and Costco Wholesale, both in Woodstock, and the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Clients walk out with around 50 pounds of food, depending on the family size. The ministry is reserved for Cherokee County residents only.
Verda Lyles is a 10-year member of the ministry. She often works to register people who come through the door. A retiree, Lyles makes it a point to remember the names of those she meets to “keep them in prayer.”
“You see people in need. We still treat them with respect,” she said. “The Lord asks us to take care of the poor. We can all go through the situation.”