Parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver haven’t kept their arms crossed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it be by collecting food or hosting food banks and sandwich lines, many of them have intensified and adapted their efforts to provide these services amid the current health risks and regulations.
Some parishes shared with us what they have done in the past few months to ensure no family goes to bed on an empty stomach.
Announcing the Gospel, one trunk at a time
Since 1974, Twin Parishes Food Bank has been helping Denver families facing financial difficulties. It is located just a block away from Annunciation Parish and it operates under the umbrella of the parish.
Although the current pandemic has brought about unexpected complications and an increased demand for food services, Kevin Holwerda-Hommes, director of the food bank, is grateful for the generosity he’s encountered.
“We’re seeing about 600 clients a month, which is up from about 450. We’re also doing a lot more deliveries to homebound people: about 100 boxes a month, when we used to deliver about 5,” he said. “I’m grateful we’ve had an outpouring support, both from the Catholic community in terms of funds and volunteer hours, but also from people in general… Clients are very happy that we’re still open in a time in which it would be easier for us to stay home and not risk getting sick.”
The food bank has had to limit the number of volunteers per session, provide its services outdoors and prepare boxes beforehand to load them in people’s trunks and maintain physical distancing. It has also partnered with many other parishes and non-profit and government institutions, such as the Food Bank of the Rockies and the Mental Health Center of Denver, to be able to provide these services.
“I want to thank many of those people who are donating to places like this,” said Father Charles Polifka, pastor of Annunciation Parish. “It would be impossible for us at Annunciation to pull this off without the help of other parishes and community organizations.”
Rising to the occasion
Many other charitable ministries have struggled staying open due to the added regulations or to the fact that they have recommended that volunteers over 65 years old stay home for their own safety.
This reality became worrisome at Risen Christ Parish in Denver, but the overwhelming response they received from parishioners allowed them to give more than they previously had. After many of their volunteers had to step away, the parish thought it might have to close the food bank temporarily. That’s when they decided to voice the need to their parishioners.
“We got a resounding reply with around 30 volunteers a week who stepped in immediately, and we didn’t have to cancel anything, said Steve Furch, Outreach Coordinator at the parish. “There was no hesitation at all. People just started calling saying, ‘I’d like to help.’”
The parish serves over 200 families in its two monthly sessions in collaboration with Food Bank of the Rockies. But there’s more. Risen Christ Parish also collects non-perishable food items throughout the week from its parishioners and delivers that food to other inner-city food banks on Mondays and Fridays each week, a ministry that has been going on for about 20 years.
“Several people have told me, ‘I hadn’t had to call you for any other help. We get so much food that now I can afford to pay my bills,’” said Furch joyfully.
The personal interactions that come with providing such services have allowed many volunteers and staff at parishes to encounter first-hand the effects of the pandemic on many families.
“We’ve seen a lot of families who have had to go to the food bank for the very first time because of job layoffs,” said Melanie Rohr, Outreach Coordinator at Immaculate Heart of Mary. “We had a man in tears who had lost his job say to us: ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this. We’ve got kids at home, and I just don’t know how I’m going to do it… This is going to help us tremendously to get by while we find some temporary work.’”
This reality and need led volunteers at IHM to work harder to keep the food bank open when they experienced a volunteer shortage. But, serving an average of 750 households a month, the parish has committed to turning no one away. Instead, it has tried to bring a greater awareness to its services.
Such generosity is made possible by the support, partnership and donations from parishioners, religious organizations, local restaurants and businesses, the government, etc.
Furthermore, other than allowing clients to replenish once a week, IHM offers a monthly registration for people within its boundaries to receive a monthly food order.
“We’re open to anyone in need without restriction. We have a lot of food to give out because donations are abundant, and we hate when we have food that we can’t give away,” Rohr said.
Cathedral and Hungary, but not hungry
When it comes to serving those in need in the heart of Denver, two downtown parishes provide meals for over 80,000 people a year through their daily services. Both the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish have a long history of giving to the community.
While the sandwich line at the Cathedral started in the late 70s, St. Elizabeth’s at least goes back to 1910, when the Franciscans and Mother Cabrini used to give food from the back of a Denver & Rio Grande train. However, there are reports that the Franciscans were already doing it the current church building when it opened in 1896.
The additional precautions taken due to the coronavirus have not kept either of these parishes from providing meals to hundreds of people every day. With many rotating volunteers, St. Elizabeth Parish is able to make homemade soup every day, and thanks to people’s generosity the Cathedral is able to offer well-balanced meals – not to mention the 20-30 loaves of homemade bread that one certified volunteer bakes every day for the sandwiches.
Father Ron Cattany, Pastor and Rector of the Cathedral and St. Elizabeth of Hungary, has been fascinated by people’s gratitude during this time.
“The people that come are some of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve seen in my life. Some will come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing. Can I pray over you?’ Those blessings are the best,” he said.
He has also witnessed people’s gratitude in their acts of kindness toward the Cathedral. During the outbursts of protests and vandalism downtown, a man pitched his tent in front of the Cathedral garage to protect it and let people know that someone was always watching.
“While we live in a world where the funding community wants to fund new things, the basic needs don’t go away, the lines don’t get any shorter,” he said. “When the government cannot provide it, the first place people go to is to the churches. That’s why the Catholic Church is one of the largest social service providers in the world.”
Twin Parishes (Annunciation)
Tues., Thurs. 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
3663 Humboldt Street, Denver, CO 80205
2nd and 4th Thurs. of the month. 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Immaculate Heart of Mary
MWF 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
(11426 Pearl St. Northglenn, CO 80233)
Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
8 a.m. Breakfast; 1 p.m. Pantry; 4 p.m. Snacks
St. Elizabeth of Hungary
11 a.m. Sandwich line