Franciscan Parishes Respond to the Growing Needs
As in many cities around the US during the coronavirus restrictions, services provided to the poor and homeless in Baltimore, Maryland, were limited to fit the guidelines and procedures. For Beans and Bread, a ministry of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, that meant no one could come in and eat inside.
“Like others, members of our parish had been preparing casseroles and taking them to Beans and Bread,” said Friar Dennis Grumsey, pastor of St. Casimir Church, located in the center of Baltimore. “When Covid hit, no one could go in and sit around the tables. They came up with the idea of preparing bagged meals with sandwiches and handing them out the window.
“At St. Casimir’s, we began in mid-May last year with ten families making ten bag lunches each. Before we knew it, it took off. We coordinate with our people, and every Tuesday morning we have a list of who’s bringing the sandwiches that week. By the beginning of May of this year our parishioners had made more than 50,000 sandwiches for the poor.”
During the virus shutdowns, with so many people unable to leave their homes for work or school, making the sandwiches became a popular activity.
“The nice thing is that it has become a family project,” Friar Dennis said. “Parents were looking for something to do with their school-age children. This was something they could do to feed the poor and at the same time teach their children about hunger.
“The children began to look forward to it. They began to decorate the bags with nice messages. Some were simple, like ‘Jesus loves you.’ But others were very profound.”
The Conventual Franciscans have served the people of St. Casimir Church since 1906. In the early days it was a Polish parish, serving the immigrants arriving from across the Atlantic Ocean. Today it has become the pastorate of three combined parishes. Friar Dennis, who is beginning his 12th year as pastor, said the generous response of the parishioners and the great need for services to the poor and homeless have led to plans for expanded parish outreach.
“We have more than 230 volunteers who have participated in everything from making the sandwiches to receiving them, then transporting and distributing the lunches themselves,” he said. “As for the sandwich preparers – some bring ten, some bring 20, and one woman brings 70. Because of the response, Beans and Bread doesn’t need all of our sandwiches each week, so we take half there and half to Helping Hands Mission.
“But the wonderful thing is the response from the people who receive the lunches. They are so grateful. And not just for the food – but the messages on the bag. So many of them haven’t heard words of comfort in a long time.
“The enthusiasm of our parishioners has led us to explore how we expand our services. We think we have a great opportunity to do more for those in need.”