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VOL. 127 | NO. 131 | Friday, July 06, 2012

Expanding Outreach

Catholic Charities launches mobile food pantry

By Aisling Maki

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Catholic Charities of West Tennessee (CCWTN) recently expanded its outreach to the poor by launching a new mobile food pantry that will travel throughout the region, providing sustenance to families in need.

Juan Sanchez helps carry groceries for the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee’s recently added mobile food pantry outreach service. (Photo: Courtesy of Catholic Charities of West Tennessee)

The volunteer-driven program will ultimately distribute both non-perishable and perishable foods twice a month to eight locations.

For many years, CCWTN has operated a food pantry out of the basement of its headquarters at 1325 Jefferson Ave. in Memphis.

“Our diocese is so much bigger than just Midtown Memphis,” said Therese Gustaitis, director of the Parish Social Ministry arm of CCWTN. “And the needs are every bit as great for our clients in Raleigh, Frayser, Hickory Hill, Brownsville, Jackson and many other areas in which we serve.”

The Catholic Diocese of Memphis includes Tennessee parishes as far away as Dyersburg, Covington, Somerville, Selmer and Jackson. Catholic Charities president Michael Allen said the mobile pantry is part of the organization’s strategic plan to increase outreach to the outer-lying parts of the diocese.

“We just felt that because of the issues of nutrition and hunger, this was one way to get out and be more mobile in further parts of the diocese,” Allen said.

The Mid-South Food Bank, 239 S. Dudley St., distributes food at a very low cost to charitable organizations that provide safety net services free of charge, and much of the food the CCWTN mobile pantry procures – which includes not only canned and boxed items, but fresh produce, meat and culturally-sensitive foods – comes from the Food Bank.

However, Allen says other churches of various denominations as well as schools and businesses have held food drives and made donations to help stock the mobile pantry.

“We’re always looking for donations of non-perishable items or cash to help defray the cost of the food purchases we make,” he said.

CCWTN for many years has also operated a Clothes Closet out of its basement on Jefferson Avenue, and the mobile pantry will soon include clothing distribution; back-to-school uniforms and winter items will be especially needed.

Local parishes are identifying those people most in need in their communities, and there’s a particular focus on outreach to the region’s growing Hispanic community.

“Obviously the Hispanic population is growing rapidly in West Tennessee and our bishop (Terry Steib) is encouraging our parishes and schools and other parts of the diocese to reach out to that community,” Allen said.

The mobile pantry is currently focusing on Catholic parishes that have large Hispanic populations. Many have bilingual staff members or clergy, and each stop will include at least one bilingual volunteer.

This outreach is part of a larger strategy by Catholic Charities to expand its services for immigrants.

Since the 1970s, CCWTN, through its relationship with the U.S. State Department, has served as the first point of contact for all refugees arriving in the Mid-South. The organization has helped settle more than 7,000 refugees, providing services such as social adjustment, English as a second language classes, employment services, housing and health care providers.

However, Allen said CCWTN plans to end its refugee resettlement program and launch a new immigration services program this fall.

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