Local sisters offer challenge to end hunger for Catholic Sisters Week

Laura Keener, Editor.
As part of Catholic Sisters Week, March 8 – 12, the Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery, Notre Dame Sisters U.S.A. and Sisters of Divine Providence, Melbourne, are teaming up to bring awareness to food insecurity and a challenge to end hunger. They are inviting everyone to join them.
The three religious communities are challenging its members, parishes and friends to make a donation to end hunger and to share their generosity and support by posting on social media as a way to honor Catholic Sisters Week. The monetary donation can be made to any food bank, meal center, food pantry or organization that serves the hungry.
“We don’t want to spotlight any particular organization because we would then leave out so many others,” said Divine Providence Sister Barbara Rohe, provincial superior. “We just want to be aware of the great hunger and food insecurity that so many people in the world experience, but also in the U.S. Right now, the need seems overwhelming when you hear the news and see people in long lines to get food.”
While the sisters are not designating any particular organization, they are certainly supportive of the local service agencies and food pantries sisters are presently or formerly involved. Some of those include Catholic Charities, Diocese of Covington’s Parish Kitchen, Covington; Mary Rose Mission, Florence; Holy Spirit Outreach, Newport; and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Northern Kentucky.
This year, Governor Andy Beshear signed a proclamation declaring Jan. 28, 2021 “Hunger Free Day” in Kentucky. During the signing, he said 600,000 Kentuckians rely on food from charitable organizations. Additionally, he said that one in six Kentucky households with children experiences food insecurity. Kentucky also has the highest rate of food insecurity among adults ages 50 to 59.
“Food insecurity is more rampant than people would believe,” said Cindy Carris, director, Mary Rose Mission. “More and more people are living on the edge of food insecurity — maybe even people that you know.”
The Mary Rose Mission serves a hot dinner to anyone who shows up at its kitchen. Typically the Mission offers a sit down dinner but has transitioned to drive-thru service during the pandemic. Mrs. Carris said that it is good that the no-contact service has allowed them to continue its ministry but volunteers and guests are missing the social interaction. Guests are especially missing Benedictine Sister Andrea Collopy. Sister Andrea and two other Benedictine Sisters would regularly volunteer but had to suspend their activities when the pandemic struck. Sister Andrea was in charge of “working the exit” and would collect prayer intentions from the guests.
“Everybody loved her. There would be a line all the way through the dining room waiting to talk to her,” Mrs. Carris said. “It was such an honor to have the sisters here, their presence adds a holiness to the service that wouldn’t be there otherwise.”
As Karen Zengel, executive director, finished this year’s annual report for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Northern Kentucky, she noticed what she describes as “a modern day miracle.” In 2020, the Society provided $70,000 more in groceries than the previous year. The large spike was due to the first months of the pandemic and the lockdown. During that time people were uncertain about the economy and their personal income. Wisely, they began to hold on to any cash they had on hand for use to pay mortgages, rent and utilities and began seeking assistance for food.
“We had no idea how we were going to provide for the demand and God provided for us. It was terrible and awesome at the same time,” Mrs. Zengel said. “Our Vincentians are an awesome, committed group of people who just continued to answer the call when people reached out in need.”
Notre Dame Sister Judith Niewahner fills an integral role in the Society’s food outreach. She is the Conference Relations Manager and Food Pantry Manager, overseeing the Society’s 26 food pantries. Two pantries are operated by the diocesan council with stores located in Erlanger and Falmouth. A third SVDP Food Pantry is scheduled to open March 3 in Cold Spring. The other 24 food pantries are operated at parishes by parish conferences.
“Having Sister Judith on the team, I feel like she is this beacon of hope all the time,” said Mrs. Zengel. “She’s always up for a challenge and an exciting project. She figures out how to make things happen. She’s a shining example of how we can do all things with God.”
Sister Judith and Notre Dame Sister Michelyn Beckerich also volunteer at their parish food pantry, Holy Spirit Outreach, Newport. The small, neighborhood pantry served 1,400 people since last April, said Msgr. William Cleves, pastor. People can also get assistance for rent and utilities if they register at the center.
“Everyone who comes in gets multiple bags of groceries; we never ask for money or donations,” Msgr. Cleves said. Instead, the pantry receives food from government agencies and is funded by the generosity of Holy Spirit parishioners. In addition to monetary donations, each month, parishioners are asked to provide a specific, needed pantry item. This month it’s Mac ’n Cheese. During the summer, the parish cultivates a community garden located prominently on the space between the church and the parish convent.
“We have a very generous parish; we have a great little community here,” Msgr. Cleves said.
At the Parish Kitchen, Maria Meyer, manager, said that not only have they seen an increase in the number of guests — about 200 lunches per day this year, versus 150 lunches last year — but the demographics have also changed.
During the pandemic, the Parish Kitchen moved from its historic location on Pike Street to a more prominent location on Madison Ave., Covington. Before the move, the guests of the Parish Kitchen were predominately male. And while they still see many familiar faces, now, more women and families are being served. It’s difficult, Ms. Meyer said, to gauge whether or not the changes are due to the pandemic or the location change.
Since last March, due to the pandemic, the Parish Kitchen has had to transition from sit-down lunches to grab-n-go lunches. But neither challenge — the move nor the virus — has shut down the Parish Kitchen down.
“We haven’t missed a day and we have been able to keep our guests, volunteers and staff safe through the pandemic,” Ms. Meyer said.
Before the pandemic hit, Divine Providence Sister Joan Boberg regularly volunteered at the Parish Kitchen. In 1987, when she was executive director of Catholic Charities, Sister Joan began volunteering there once a month. In a 2018 interview for the “Breaking Bread” newsletter, Sister Joan said she began volunteering so that she could have hands on experience of the ministry; being with the guests was a part of the ministry she loved.
Ms. Meyer understands and misses that connection, noting that it is harder to connect with people when they are not being served in the dining room. She said, talking about life’s struggles and successes is a big part of what the Parish Kitchen offers its guests, noting the economic diversity of the people who experience hunger.
“Not all of our guests are homeless, some have a place to stay but still struggle to make ends meet. Some people have a job and some have a car but they are food insecure,” she said.
“The pandemic has left a cloud of depression because it’s harder to connect with people. At the Parish Kitchen see people first, not second. Hearing about what’s going on in their life is a big part of our mission that we are missing.”
To join the Catholic Sisters Week challenge to end hunger follow the Sisters on Facebook: CDPKentucky and SNDKy.