St. John’s Food Program: Helping the Working Poor Survive – And Saving Lives!
By Dorrie Maynard
ICT editor Rose called me a month ago and asked me to write a story about St. John’s church (located on Temple Street in Worcester) – specifically the church’s amazing food distribution center/pantry/kitchen. I balked – told Rose there have been many stories written about St. John’s and that I would not have anything interesting to add. However, she pressed the issue, like she always does, so I took the assignment … and onward I went!!!
First, I had to talk to the program’s director Bill Riley to see if he was interested in doing a story for InCity Times and go from there. Volunteering with Central Mass Kibble Kitchen, I am at St. John’s twice monthly passing out pet food to the working poor who have cats or dogs to feed, so I know Bill. I went in and asked him if he was up for another story – a cover story. To my
surprise, he agreed! He told me to be at the church’s St. Francis food center (named after the patron saint of the poor) the following Tuesday at 7 am when the doors open and I could shadow him for the morning.
I called Rose to tell her that Bill had agreed. She was ecstatic! I told her Billy wanted me at St. John’s for 7 a.m!!!! I like my beauty sleep!😉 I don’t get out of bed to go to my
real job until 7:30 a.m! So “heading to church” for 7 a.m was not something
I was looking forward to! I had to have my early bird sister give me a wake up so I’d be sure I was up at 6 am the following Tuesday.
When I got her call that day it was
still dark out!!!! …
My dogs were a bit confused as
well! We never get up at this “unGodly” hour, but I had made the commitment, now I had to walk the walk! I got to St. John’s about 7 a.m. when the doors to their community kitchen open, there was a line already out the door – folks waiting to get a free, nutritious breakfast to start their day. About 70% of the folks who go to the food kitchen are the working poor – THEY HAVE JOBS BUT AFTER PAYING RENT AND OTHER BILLS THEY HAVE TROUBLE BUYING GROCERIES FOR THEMSELVES AND THEIR FAMILIES. St. John’s supplements their usually minimum wage pay checks. The rest of the “guests” are the homeless/struggling.
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes I made my way in to the food pantry to find Bill. He suggested that I stick around – work the food line for the day – and get a real feel for the place. I would see how things ran … I was already up, so even though I wasn’t happy about the game plan, I decided to take a step and observe the busy-ness of the place.
Bill showed me around a bit and then handed me my apron and told me to get behind the counter and start serving!!! Pronto! I was put in the front line at the bread station. I was
giving out bread and placing ham on it so people could make sandwiches to either eat there or “to go. ” Diners next stop was the girl beside me who was putting cheese on the ham. Then from her, “guests” put on condiments.
It really was quite assembly line – a bit crazy at times, but once I got the hang of it, it was smooth sailing!
There was such volume …
…and people wanting ham but not thr cheese! Or two pieces of ham – not three! Some folks wanted wheat bread, some wanted white, some didn’t want the ends, some didn’t care.
At one point, I heard someone yell at me: “Hey, aren’t you the cat food lady?” They remembered me from my Kibble Connections visits!
I said: YAH!
There are many people who visit St. John’s for their breakfast and lunch and then visit the Mustard Seed soup kitchen for their dinner. I volunteer at the Mustard Seed too – giving out pet
food every Wednesday through the Kibble Connection. And I also help the poor or himeless by giving out items that people need on a regular basis – so
there were many familiar faces at St. John’s!
Bill told me they feed several hundred people daily!!! He feels for the people who pay their rent and bills and don’t have enough money to feed themselves (as their food stamps have been cut back) or buy extra items that are needed. Some people are indeed homeless and
struggling with addictions.
Everyone is welcome at St. John’s, assuming they can adhere to the “tight ship” that Bill runs and maintains. Bill is a former prison guard who tolerates no games, no dealing, no rudeness, no cutting in line, no problems on the premisses. There is a Worcester Police officer on duty at all times to enforce this policy, if needed.
Bill pretty much knows everyone by name and shows everyone respect and goes above and beyond to make people happy.
People come to him with special requests: asking for a cake
for a birthday, some ice cream for a family celebration, some cottage cheese, some fruit,etc. Bill either goes in
the back to find it himself or asks one of his many dedicated volunteers to make the journey into the many places where these goodies can be found! He’s a truly selfless man!
St. John’s has been blessed with the support/partnership of the Stop & Shop supermarket chain …
Bill has two vans that are out daily making pick ups of food that hasn’t sold but is still completely edible. Bill also gets many donations from other retailers that are unable to sell things for one reason or another. On the day that I was there, he was fortunate enough to receive a large donation of
new bed pillows! There was something wrong with the UPC labels that made them
unsalable. Bill is super generous and asked if I would like to have some for the women at Abby’s House. Knowing that we can always use items for the shelter guests, I quickly said YES!
Another person I need to mention that has generously contributed to the success of St. John’s Xavier Food Center is Frank Carroll. He has helped to build the building and the new cooler that was much needed. Frank is on the board and is a member of the Church community. When Frank’s wife died, Bill and several of his volunteers stood outside on the sidewalk between the Church and the center when her body was driven by in the hearse to pay their final respects.
Pastor Father Madden is also a very visible figure at the Xavier Center! He runs a ROBUST AND WELCOMING ST. JOHN’S CHURCH THAT EMBRACES COMMUNITY!
I had the pleasure of meeting Fr. Madden the day that I was there and was present when he said grace before the meal. Everyone stood together, and even though they may have been different from each other on many levels, it was so great to see everyone standing together and praying and hoping for the same things!
At the end of the day, Bill turned to me and said: “Dorrie, you got your story.”
And that I did💗.
St. John’s Xavier Center is a place that people can go to to get a good meal,a smile, mutual respect and, if they are lucky enough, a new bed pillow!💗💗
The hours at St. John’s Xavier food Center are Monday through Friday, 7 am – 11 am. Food is served there and food is also given away. Families seeking food boxes must live within the 01604 zip code.
Saturdays 8 am -10 am – the St. John’s church free veggies and fruits (and other goodies!) give away. The location is 20 Temple St.