Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25:34-36, 40
In this passage from Matthew’s Gospel, we hear what are often referred to as the corporal works of mercy. There are seven corporal works of mercy:
- To give food to the hungry
- To give drink to the thirsty
- To clothe the naked
- To visit the imprisoned
- To shelter the homeless
- To visit the sick
- To bury the dead
As Christians, the corporal works of mercy are a way in which we can serve our fellow man. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the works of mercy as “charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities” (2447). The works of mercy are ways in which we love and serve others in our lives, and ultimately, the way we serve Jesus, Our Lord.
There are many ways in our lives that we can practice the works of mercy. The parishioners of St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Flint, TX practice the corporal works of mercy through their weekly food pantry for the poor.
Led by SMM parishioner, David Fenter, over 20 volunteers prepare homemade lunches and grocery baskets for 325-350 clients each month. Volunteers gather as early as 8:00AM every Wednesday morning at the parish to prepare food, collect food donations from the East Texas Food Bank and to begin assembling grocery baskets.
Fender explains that the SMM Food Pantry partners with the East Texas Food Bank for their main source of food supply each week. Any food and supplies not provided for by the East Texas Food Bank are purchased from other locations through generous donations from parishioners at St. Mary Magdalene.
Before social distancing and gathering limitations were implemented due to the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, volunteers prepared a weekly hot meal that was served in the church hall. Any client that wished to enjoy a hot meal was welcome to partake of the food provided when they came to pick up their grocery baskets. With the additional precautions implemented after the start of the pandemic, the volunteers quickly adapted and switched to a drive-thru food pantry. Instead of hot meals, sandwiches are assembled and packed in to-go boxes. This way, clients are still able to enjoy a fresh homemade meal each week.
Letty Nunez coordinates the weekly homemade meal. Nunez explains that she loves being able to cook and help people. Serving at the SMM Food Pantry has allowed her to use her gifts in a way that best serves the poor and those in the most need. Nunez noted that some weeks they will make up to 250 sandwiches, and each week, every sandwich is given away.
Grocery baskets are also assembled by a team of volunteers. Each basket contains enough groceries to feed a small family for about a week. Before Covid-19, restrictions only allowed clients to collect a grocery basket once a month. As a result, the SMM Food Pantry served 50-70 clients a week with grocery baskets.
With the rise in needs during the pandemic, many food distribution restrictions were lifted and clients can now receive a grocery basket weekly if necessary. As of March 2020, the SMM Food Pantry has been able to serve 80-100 clients each week.
The grocery baskets contain a combination of fresh food and non-perishable items. Each basket contains food such as meat (chicken, ham, beef or pork), milk, juice, pasta, canned goods, fresh fruit like apples or oranges, cooking oils and bread.
In 2019, the SMM Food Pantry served 2759 clients. In 2020, the Food Pantry was able to increase that number and serve 3527 clients. All of this is made possible through the financial generosity of the parish and the generosity of the volunteers that give of their time each Wednesday.
In early 2020, the SMM Food Pantry received a grant from the East Texas Food Bank to build a 10×10 foot refrigerated room. Because of the cold room, SMM food pantry is able to store produce and milk, allowing for better distribution of resources and help prevent refrigerated products from spoiling.
But there is more to the SMM Food Pantry than just distributing food. One SMM volunteer who wished to remain anonymous pointed out to the CET Staff that they do more than just feed the poor.
“It’s the community,” he said. “We’re all brothers and sisters here. It’s getting to know the other volunteers. We call each other and check in on each other.” Not only are the volunteers of the SMM Food Pantry being witnesses of Christ’s love for the poor in their community, they are also serving each other.
Jesus tells us in Sacred Scripture, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). When we love and serve the people around us, we are also serving the Lord himself. This is something every Christian is called to do, in the various vocations and life circumstances in which we find ourselves. Some are able to feed the poor and hungry through ministries like the SMM Food Pantry. Others are able to feed the hungry within their families and at their own kitchen tables. In any way we can serve another in need, God is greatly pleased.
St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Flint, TX is a parish located in the Diocese of Tyler. You can learn more about this parish and their ministries here.