Tag Archives: malnutrition

Helping folks eat healthy – 🎵🎵 🌽🍅🍆💗 to our souls!

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!!!

ICT’s intrepid Dorrie Maynard at St. John’s church community kitchen!🌺

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.

Church and school groups offer their time and people power! They volunteer at St. John’s food pantry/kitchen, helping to feed the hungry, as Jesus Christ preached to the world! pics: Dorrie Maynard👼

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 …

Some of the hundreds of pounds of donated food!

…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.

Free veggies and fruit at St. John’s, every Saturday morning!

Hunger in our Latino Community! SNAP to the rescue!

By Stacy Wilbur

Sometimes after an especially long day of working at the Edward M. Kennedy Health Center in Great Brook Valley, Lisandra Rodriguez de Pagan, needs her spirits buoyed, so she spends her down time sharing the highlights of her day with her husband and three children.

For the most part, it’s Lisandra who is raising spirits in her role as a SNAP Outreach Worker to the Latino community for Project Bread.
For the nearly two years in Worcester, Lisandra has headed up a special project called “Strengthening Latino Families” aimed at enrolling Latino families in SNAP, which stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

Funded by a prestigious grant from the USDA through the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, this project is a pilot program in Worcester and Chelsea, aimed at uncovering the reasons why Latinos are the largest group most at risk for food-insecurity and also the group least likely to apply for SNAP benefits.

“Latinos face many unique barriers with regard to SNAP,” said Lisandra, reviewing the stack of paperwork on her desk with a sigh. “These include language barriers, cultural differences, citizenship concerns, and a general mistrust of government.” Continued Lisandra: “So we begin with a friendly conversation, and I try to tease out their worries and put them to rest. Once they learn how the program can help their families eat a more healthy diet, they are much more open to applying.”

And the benefits of SNAP for low-income Latinos are significant.
SNAP enables families to purchase healthy food for themselves and their children. The benefits come in the form of an EBT card (no more paper stamps), which looks like a credit card and can be used at most supermarkets. EBT stands for “electronic benefits transfer” and that’s exactly how the cards work: the client’s SNAP benefits are electronically transferred to the card each month to help them add fresh produce, eggs, milk, fish, and other healthy items to their grocery cart.

With 660,000 people at risk for hunger in the Massachusetts, it’s particularly important to take advantage of this program.

“But many Latinos are ashamed,” says Lisandra. “They don’t want to ask for a handout. They don’t understand that, as taxpayers, they are entitled to this assistance. And some families I speak to don’t realize that they are eligible – or that, even if they are not eligible, that their children may be.”

“My job,” continued Lisandra, “is to create a safe place for parents to ask questions and think about their decisions. I tell them that it is important to take care of their family’s health first, and that studies show us that a healthier diet contributes to their children getting better grades in school and to lower rates of diabetes and hypertension.”

As a result, the Latino community has embraced Lisandra as a trusted resource and advocate on their behalf. In many places, she is affectionately known as the “The Food Stamp Lady.”

“Hunger is a major health crisis hurting families in Worcester, as well as across the state,” says U.S. Congressman James P. McGovern, a long-time advocate for food-insecure people.

In recognition of this problem, Project Bread, the state’s leading antihunger organization, has partnered with the Office of Congressman McGovern, the Office of the Mayor, the Worcester Advisory Food and Active Living Policy Council, along with local health and community centers, to take action.

To get started on resolving the crisis, Project Bread and its partners began a marketing outreach campaign aimed at the Latino community, promoting the importance of receiving SNAP benefits. The campaign included bilingual pamphlets, which were produced and distributed to targeted locations, including Compare Foods, the Worcester Public Schools Parent Resource Center, as well as health and social service centers, and the unemployment office.

Project Bread outreach workers also worked closely with local employers and unions to encourage their employees and members to take advantage of SNAP and many employers put notices in paycheck envelopes.

In Worcester, the project now includes outreach workers like Lisandra in health centers and social service agencies throughout the city, including the Edward M. Kennedy Health Center, the Family Health Center, WIC, the Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center (PSNNC), and the Main South Community Development Corporation (see sidebar for hours).

At the Family Health Center, Marta Campos is another such “Food Stamp Lady.”

Since 2010, Marta has been helping Latino families apply for SNAP, processing about 15 applications a month. Campos attributes the increase to the marketing campaign, the caring of the counselors, and the extended hours. The health center is open five days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., as well as Saturdays and holidays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Campos says that the extended hours allow people who work (sometimes more than one job) to come in during non-work hours and get the counseling and assistance they need.
“SNAP makes such a difference in people’s lives,” Campos said. “I recently had an elderly diabetic couple come in to thank me for our help because they were able to have better quality food on their table.”

Since outreach began through “Strengthening Latino Families,” the Food Stamp Ladies have processed approximately 700 SNAP applications and have provided an additional 800 people with information and assistance on SNAP in Worcester.

Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline, the only comprehensive hunger resource in Massachusetts, has also seen an increase of calls from Worcester. The hotline, which receives an average of 47,000 calls a year, has observed a 61 percent increase in calls from Worcester between September 2009 to September 2010.

Although “Strengthening Latino Families” comes to an end this October, Project Bread will continue its outreach to Latinos in the Worcester community through collaboration with its partners.
“It is very important to us to carry on the work we began in Worcester,” said Noreen Kelly, Director of Community Initiatives at Project Bread.

“We will continue to have an outreach coordinator in the community and distribute marketing materials to promote SNAP.”
Lisandra is one “Food Stamp Lady” who is heartened to hear this: “My clients appreciate the customer service I provide to them and are relieved to know that I am here to help.”

Want to Apply for SNAP?

Visit one of the health centers or social service agencies below for SNAP application assistance in Spanish and English.

Edward M. Kennedy Health Center ( at Great Brook Valley)
19 Tacoma St.
Worcester, MA 01605
Friday: 9:00 A.M. – 1:30 P.M.

Family Health Center
26 Queen Street,
Worcester, MA 01610
(508) 860-7700
Monday to Friday: 8:00 A.M. – 8:00 P.M.
Saturday & Holidays: 9:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.

Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center (PSNNC)
301 Pleasant Street
Worcester, MA 01609-2023
(508) 754-7793
Tuesdays: 1:00 P.M. – 7:00 P.M.

Main South Community Development Corporation
875 Main Street
Worcester, MA 01610
(508) 752-6181
Wednesdays: 11:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. and by appointment