For the fifth consecutive year, Philadelphia Police Department officers from the Michael the Archangel Ministry provided full Thanksgiving meals to clients of archdiocesan Catholic Social Services’ Northeast Family Service Center, Nov. 23. (Photo by Beth Wood)

Philadelphia police teamed up with an archdiocesan outreach to brighten the Thanksgiving holiday for some 50 families in the city’s Mayfair section.

Six officers joined Oblate Father Steven Wetzel Nov. 23 to distribute Thanksgiving meals – including turkey, stuffing and fresh vegetables from a Lancaster farm co-op – to families served by Catholic Social Services’ Northeast Family Service Center (NEFSC) in Philadelphia.

The grab-and-go packages even included pumpkin pies from local favorite Schenk’s Family Bakery, as well as hand sanitizer.

The meals were provided by the Philadelphia Lodge #5 Fraternal Order of Police, where Father Wetzel is chaplain of the Michael the Archangel Ministry.

Named for the patron of police officers, the ministry — which Father Wetzel describes as “multidenominational, rather than nondenominational” — provides pastoral care, crisis ministry and spiritual enrichment opportunities.

Services include hospital visits, bereavement support, funeral rites and pastoral counseling to some 14,000 active and retired Philadelphia Police Department members, as well as their families.

The Thanksgiving meal distribution, now in its fifth year, was “healing” for officers after a year of pandemic, protests and increased gun violence, said Father Wetzel.

“It’s our way of reaching out,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for them, and for all of us really, to do some good things at this time of year.”

Requests for food assistance from the family service site continue to increase, said administrator Beth Wood.

Oblate Father Steven Wetzel (right), chaplain of the Michael the Archangel Ministry at Philadelphia Lodge #5 Fraternal Order of Police, coordinated a Nov. 23 Thanksgiving meal distribution with staff from archdiocesan Catholic Social Services in Northeast Philadelphia. (Gina Christian)

“We’re seeing about 20 families a day at the food cupboard,” she said, noting that infant formula and diapers are among critically needed items.

One of seven Catholic Social Services (CSS) centers located throughout the five-county archdiocesan area, NEFSC provides a broad range of support to individuals, families and parishes throughout Northeast Philadelphia. That assistance is more needed than ever, said site staff.

“Families are definitely struggling through the pandemic,” said pregnancy and parenting educator Allison Kane. “They would be living paycheck to paycheck if they were working. And now a lot of them aren’t working.”

With the pandemic rapidly approaching the one-year mark, “it’s starting to become harder and harder for the parents,” Kane said. “They’re wondering when the end is in sight.”

To enhance clients’ coping skills, Wood and her team have added stress reduction sessions to their schedule of Zoom classes.

“That has been a really valuable resource for the families,” she said.

Despite months of working long hours to support clients, NEFSC staff remain upbeat.

“We’re here to help. That’s what we signed up to do,” said Kane. “We work so well together, and we’re ready to keep helping.”