He sat quietly and unassumingly

by Manuel Casias

He sat quietly and unassumingly. Although he had a limited vocabulary, his shivers on one of the coldest days of the year spoke volumes.

A wandering little pilgrim at St. Felix Pantry in Rio Rancho, NM, named Juanito was cold, and the thin wind-breaker he was wearing was hardly sufficient enough to keep him warm. I just happened to walk by when I noticed him and immediately called out. “Who does this child belong to?” I asked. His mother, who spoke broken English, told me that he was her little boy. I did not ask if he had another coat at home; rather, I simply smiled and told her that a coat had just come in for little Juanito and we were waiting for him to come in and get it. Confused and surprised, Juanito’s mom said, with incredible humility, Gracias.

This story is not uncommon at St. Felix Pantry where clothing is also provided to many families in need. In fact, just as many families who get food weekly from the Pantry also receive much-needed clothing from the Pantry’s clothing bank. From my perspective, it is hard to imagine little Juanito and other children like him in our neighborhood being cold, especially if they live just down the street from the Pantry.

This event reminded me of one of New Mexico’s oldest stories about the Santo Nino De Atocha (the infant child of Prague, the wandering little pilgrim) who sits in an old historic pilgrimage site in Northern New Mexico. Throughout the years, people from all over this great state have brought the small statue of Jesus shoes, coats, and a variety of things to wear as he goes out into New Mexico’s countryside performing miracles nightly. In ministry, we often tell people to accept strangers as though they were friends. You never know when Jesus will pay a visit. Warm and smiling, the wandering little pilgrim Juanito is indeed a new friend of Felix.

Was it Jesus visiting the Pantry’s clothing bank, cold, shivering, and hoping that we would tend to his needs? We will never know. What we do know is that St. Felix Pantry reaches out to all of its neighbors, big and small, during their neediest moments.

For Juanito, he spent the rest of that day warm and well-fed as all children should during these cold winter days. This is the hope that St. Felix provides to individuals like Juanito and families in need throughout the neighborhoods it serves all year long. The miracle provided us this day was the assurance and confirmation that St. Felix Pantry continues to respond with compassion and the work we do every day has sacred purpose.
Annually, St. Felix Pantry makes clothing available to nearly 6,000 families whose households range from one member to several members where many of them are children. Just recently, St. Felix Pantry partnered with the Rio Rancho Baptist church, sending clothing to 60 families in Juarez, Mexico, which is approximately seven hours south of St. Felix pantry.
We serve a God without borders and boundaries. Some of the neighborhoods we serve are seven hours away.

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Food Pantry in NY

Sister Mary Josette – Dancing in Heaven Buffalo, NY

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Sister Josette

eeee rrrrr qqqSunshine, warm temperatures, smiling faces, generous hearts, and willing hands fashioned a blessed Day of Service, an overwhelming demonstration of community spirit and solidarity with the poor at the Sister Mary Josette Food Pantry in Buffalo, NY, on Saturday, April 12.

No doubt Mother Angela’s holy desire, “I wish I could multiply myself a thousand times and travel to all parts of the world bringing God’s love and mercy to all people,” found deep expression in the loving service offered by all involved.

According to SM Michaelanne Galas, Pantry supervisor, donations were quickly and efficiently sorted, packaged, and shelved by SM Francianne Zielezinski and volunteers from St. John Vianney School in Orchard Park, NY, and S Marilyn Ann Dudek and volunteers from Annunciation School in Elma, NY. Walk-in volunteers from the Western New York area joined in the preparation of packages that will be distributed throughout Holy Week to those in need.

S Paul Marie Baczkowski, S Sharon Marie Dombrowski and SM Fredrica Polanski, members of the 140th Anniversary Committee, along with many sisters from the central and local convents, were on hand to assist with shelving, gift intake, greeting donors as they arrived, and providing a tour of the Pantry. S Marcella Marie Garus, president of Villa Maria College, and SM Louis Rustowicz, director of mission, were among the many volunteers.  Grandmothers brought their grandchildren, and mothers, along with their children, spent the morning so the young could learn and experience the joy of giving.
Sisters from Immaculate Heart of Mary Convent and St. Francis Residence as well as each of the local convents–strong and loyal supporters of the mission of the Sister Mary Josette Food Pantry–had the opportunity to offer yet more of their time and treasure. The spirit of the holy Lenten season provided the sisters an occasion for almsgiving. Sacrifices made during Lent from the sisters, Personal Touch Food Service staff, nurses, aides and central convent employees enabled Sister Michaelanne to purchase a much-needed freezer.

Kyle Tobin, an Eagle Scout candidate from Troop 659 at Queen of Martyrs Parish in Cheektowaga, NY, assistant scoutmaster and Villa College student Marc Muroff, along with Troop members, cleaned and painted the storage area and built wooden pallets for additional food storage in preparation for the Day of Service.

The College Community sponsored a mini grab bag raffle for the clients and collected needed food items during the week preceding the April 12 event. The Felician Sisters, Felician Associates, College community, non-profit organizations, numerous private donors, anonymous donors, volunteers–especially SM Georgette Zielinski and Claire Keuhmeier–pantry attendant Barbara Wetzel, and Joan Mullin, campus minister, are the living stones that continue to build up the Body of Christ wounded by material poverty.

Clients and donors who came to the Sister Mary Josette Food Pantry learned about the 140th Anniversary of the Felician Sisters of North America and received a holy card prepared by SM Francis Lewandowski as a reminder that “we are both giver and receiver.” Sisters who minister in schools and parishes also received the holy cards so that they could speak to the 140th Anniversary of the Felician Sisters and pray with students and staff.

In reflecting on the Day of Service, Sister Michaelanne remarked, “The earth is certainly full of the goodness of the Lord. So many have shared their goodness with us and we accept gratefully — in giving and receiving we are all blessed. Sharing in the heartfelt desire of Mother Angela to serve the poor, Sister Mary Josette Smigielski and all who support the Sister Mary Josette Food Pantry in any way have and continue to nurture a culture of hope and Abundant Life by taking practical steps to alleviate poverty. Deo gratias!”

One Sister’s Concern for the Poor

SMGeorgette's 063The Food Pantry at Villa Maria College, in Buffalo, NY,  began in 1986 when it became evident that a number of students and employees were in financial difficulty.   Inspired by a magazine article from the Los Angeles Times describing student outreach at Palomar College in San Marcos, California, Villa Maria Professor Joseph Yonder, conceived the idea of outreach to those in need.  Beginnings were small; a single table in the cafeteria near a door for easy access and anonymity, and a few bags of donated non-perishable goods became the base for student and neighborhood outreach to the poor and hungry.

In 1987, Sister Josette Smigielski , campus minister at that time, recognized the growing need for expansion, and moved her office to make way for enlarging the Food Pantry.  Soon donated items made the room a storage area and a hospitality space to provide a refreshing cup of coffee to clients as they waited for service.

In 2008 the Villa Maria College Food Pantry was renamed and dedicated to Sister Mary Josette Smigielski, who passed away suddenly on January 17, 2008.

Under the direction of subsequent campus minister, Frank Antonucci the pantry grew and expanded to its present service of approximately 560 households and 1200 individuals per month.  From one table in the cafeteria, to a quarter of the basement floor of the College’s Music Building in just over 20 years is testimony to the community outreach and ministry of Villa Maria College.

Picture1In 2013, Sister Mary Michaelanne Galas, through prayer and discernment, thought it might be time to change her ministry from the classroom to another venue.   Today, Sister Mary Michaelanne Galas, a cherished friend of Sister Josette, manages the Sister Mary Josette Food Pantry to carry on her vision of serving needy students and members of the community.  This is not only a wonderful tribute to her friendship for Sister Josette, but also an example her true Felician Francican service.