DANBURY – Volunteers at St. Joseph Church gave curbside pick-up a whole new meaning in May.
As vehicles pulled into the entrance of the Main Street church, they popped open the trunk or back door of their car or SUV and volunteers eagerly picked up bagged non-perishable items being donated to those in need.
St. Joseph Church and Catholic Charities partnered for the 3-hour event (May 23) to collect and later distribute food items and other essentials that are in high demand.
“It’s so encouraging to know our parishioners care about those in need,” said Pastor Reverend Samuel Scott, as he stood alongside volunteers, greeting each person with a wave, a smile and a few heartfelt words. “We have a sense of belonging in Danbury and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the ability to help those in need.”
Dozens of cars arrived at the church despite the persistent rain and occasional downpour. They were greeted by cheerful volunteers who were also undeterred by the soggy afternoon.
Bags containing pasta, peanut butter, cereal and other important items such as face masks, hand sanitizer and puzzles and books, filled the Catholic Charities “Morning Glory” van in the parking lot.
“It’s wonderful to see a good turnout like this,” said Heather Ely, Director of Catholic Charities’ New Heights Wellness and Recovery Center.
Ely said there are a lot of people who are at-risk, who need help now more than ever. They are paralyzed by the pandemic with anxiety or stress of isolation. Many cannot go out to the store due to health concerns or they have issues getting transportation to and from the store.
“The need is so great and we are trying to find some small way to fill the gap,” said Sandy Cole, LCSW, Vice President & Senior Director of Catholic Charities. “We wanted to have a collaboration with our parishes and the community.”
Volunteers for Catholic Charities have coordinated efforts to deliver groceries to people who are unable to shop or who cannot come to Catholic Charities to pick up the items.
“We realized we had all these supplies in our pantry (at the beginning of the state shut-down in March) and we didn’t want it to go to waste,” Ely said. “This has challenged us to see what we can do and how we can reach people now.”
Demonstrating the need in the community, as a steady stream of cars arrived at the church to donate goods, there were a few who stopped by seeking to be the recipient of food donations.
“It’s sad how much the need has grown in such a short period of time,” said Michael Donoghue, Executive Director of Catholic Charities.
“We’ve seen a tripling of demand,” he said. “Service workers and hourly workers are really struggling right now to provide food for their family. Although this is a very difficult crises, we’ve really seen an outpouring of support.”
The parish established in 1905 has a vibrant volunteer population participating in different ministries within the church and the surrounding communities.
The food drive was a parish family affair, as multiple members of families took on different roles with young children holding food drive signs at the entrance of the church parking lot and adults unloading cars.
“It works well. People don’t have to get out of their cars. It’s very safe,” Donoghue said of the organized food drive, one of several Catholic Charities has collaborated on with parishes in the area.
The generosity of the community filled the commercial-sized van twice. The opportunity to help others and see familiar faces, such as Reverend David Franklin who offered blessings and bulletins to parishioners and people who stopped by with donations, elicited a sense of joy, as face coverings could not quite conceal the smiles and laughter.
“St. Joseph in the spirit of giving, wanted to make a difference in our community,” said Lynn Smierciak, Director of Religious Education at the Parish, who was volunteering alongside her family. “It is traditionally a very generous parish.”