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Catholic Charities “Food for All” Serving the Poor and Vulnerable

Bethel means, “House of God.” True to its name, the small hamlet of Bethel found in rural Clermont County is home to many churches, most a mere stone’s throw from one to the next. Yet, St. Mary’s Catholic Church— built from 1941 to ’42— is not among them.

The very same year a young John F. Kennedy was volunteering for wartime service in the US Navy, this small Catholic community in Clermont County was denied permission to build their much wanted church within the village limits. They had demonstrated their need for the church. They had procured the funding and the bishop’s blessing. But they did not have permission from the town. At that time, they were simply not welcome. That is why this particular “house of God” is, to this very day, located just outside the official village limits.

FFA Bethel Group Shot

Feeding the Body of Christ

Scott Stephens knew of St. Mary’s in Clermont County through his work with Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio (CCSWO) as Director of Parish Outreach. He visited parish after parish— beautiful rolling farmland, forests, villages, suburbs, towns and cities— listening to their stories. Hearing firsthand of the particular struggles and joys shared in the recounted experiences, hunger was a frequently mentioned theme in many rural counties, too. Limited employment opportunities, transportation difficulties, food deserts, poor health and illness, human tragedy, bad luck: the struggles revealed were many and varied. Yet, with all those struggles, hunger and food insecurity was an ever-present and looming threat.

From this, “Food for All,” a mobile food pantry, was born some three years ago. Funding supplied by the  “One Faith, One Hope, One Love” (1FHL) capital campaign provided Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio the ability to serve residents in need. The pantry makes regular monthly stops in the counties of Adams, Brown, Highland, Clinton and Clermont to distribute a week’s worth of shelf-stable goods, produce, eggs, meat and other fresh foods for the families they serve.

Even with the generous funding of 1FHL, Catholic Charities can’t do this alone. Debbie DePuccio, the office manager at St. Mary’s, helps coordinate other volunteers from the parish when it is time for the pantry to make its monthly Bethel visit. And most of the volunteers Debbie wrangled together are from Bethel with a good showing from the parish. But they’re not all from St. Mary’s. Some of the volunteers are from the Methodist Church in town. Folks from the Nazarene Church and others can be counted on to help, too. Friends, neighbors, and strangers alike— churched and unchurched— come through the well-organized operation, choosing from a wide variety of high quality and healthy foods to help them feed their families.

The environment provided is upbeat and fun. The mood is positive and encouraging. In Clermont County it’s at St. Mary’s. But in Brown County, the pantry sets up at the Methodist Church, while the Clinton County stop is at the Morningview Apartments. Regardless of the particular location for the day, the coordinator from Catholic Charities will be working alongside the parish point-people and all the volunteers there to help: unloading the truck, setting up the tables, collecting the boxes, handing out numbers and lending an ear. Through their efforts and with the generous support from the 1FHL campaign, furrowed brows and slumped shoulders turn into smiles and fellowship. Volunteers carry boxes of food to the cars of their client families with a week’s worth of food all packed up and ready to go. This extension of corporal mercy not only cultivates discipleship, but strengthens community as well. Kindness is given, dignity is respected and the love of Christ is expressed and freely given.

Those seventy-eight years since St. Mary’s was obligated to build outside the village limits has brought much change both locally and to the wider world. That dashing young Catholic serviceman from the Navy became a war hero and was elected the first Catholic president of the United States. St. Mary’s grew so much they needed to enlarge the church as they came to be a vital and life giving presence in the community, regardless of property lines. And “Food for All” has provided hundreds of thousands of meals for these local families. Knowing this, the unofficial slogan of CCSWO seems all the more true as they state, “We don’t serve you because you are Catholic; we serve you because we are.”

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Written by: Rebecca Sontag


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