By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Grafton – Running a church ministry that feeds hundreds of hungry people each month takes a great deal of time, energy and hard work. But a successful ministry requires a few other elements as well. It needs the love, compassion and joy of its leaders and its participants.
The St. Mary-St. Philip Soup Kitchen Ministry has all of those ingredients. And the thriving ministry, consisting of parishioners from St. Mary’s Catholic Church and St. Philip’s Catholic Church, has leaders who embrace its endeavor to feed hungry people while nourishing their souls. For the past year and a half, JoAnn Rosolia and Jill Sullivan have co-chaired the volunteer ministry.
“It’s the joy of giving of ourselves and providing for others – and not just the food; it’s the meaningful conversations. That’s what means the most to me,” Rosolia said. “People are looking for something that is meaningful that they enjoy doing, so it’s not a job, it’s a pleasure.”
Started in 2001, the ministry – which has about 20 active members – provides and serves monthly dinners to people in need at Abby’s House, Dismas House, Friendly House, Jeremiah’s Inn and Visitation House. It also provides groceries for food-insecure local residents through its monthly Market Sunday initiative, in which members collect, sort and distribute non-perishable items from parishioners. Additionally, its members volunteer at Interfaith Hospitality Network in Worcester for one week each year, and they volunteer at Community Harvest Project, helping the nonprofit to plant, grow and harvest produce for people in need.
Having the ministry carefully managed by Rosolia and Sullivan helps everything to run smoothly. The co-chairs run a monthly meeting for its members, and members act as representatives for the nonprofits it serves. Ed Romeo, the representative for IHN, is happy to be part of the ministry. He believes in the work being done by IHN to empower homeless families to find safe housing and have better lives.
“To me, IHN means family,” said Romeo, who also maintains the ministry’s website. “IHN is helping keep homeless families together in a safe, friendly environment, instead of living on the streets or having to constantly move.”
But with so many organizations to help, providing that many meals is challenging. Although members from the churches’ congregations sign up to prepare different dishes, Sullivan said there are times when there aren’t enough volunteers to cover a dinner.
“When this occurs, there is an announcement made at Mass, ministry members are notified, and these needs are always met,” said Sullivan, whose husband and children have frequently volunteered with her at Dismas House. “We ask, and we receive. We are grateful to the people of St. Mary and St. Philip for their faithful and generous support.”
Rosolia – whose husband and son enjoy making tacos for many of the dinners – is also grateful to the members and non-member parishioners who help fulfill the ministry’s needs. She’s impressed that such a small group can make such a big difference. That dedication has also fueled the ministry’s successful expansion.
The recent addition of Visitation House dinners is an example of the ministry’s ability to expand its circle of compassion. Rosolia said that when one of their members discovered there was a need for meals at the nonprofit that houses homeless women with crisis pregnancies and helps them to have better lives for themselves and their babies, she and Sullivan weren’t sure if the ministry could handle another dinner.
“We were really torn…but we decided to pilot it…and it has been hugely successful,” Rosolia said. “With very few people, you can come up with an idea, make a decision and have a positive impact on girls’ lives.”
Led by Rosolia and Sullivan, the ministry has a positive impact on many lives.
“For our part, we offer food and friendship for their journey, and we pray for them always – to find secure employment that pays a fair wage, to find the help and have the strength to stay clean and sober, to heal their brokenness, to mend relationships, to make better choices, to find safe and affordable housing, to be safe from someone who is violent, to bring a child into the world in a loving, secure and safe environment,” shared Sullivan. “The friends that I’ve met through the Soup Kitchen Ministry I will carry in my heart always.”