Archbishop Nelson Pérez recently visited two ministries that feed body and soul in the heart of Chester.
On July 22, the archbishop blessed staff and volunteers at the food pantry of St. Katharine Drexel Parish’s Evangelization Center and at Anna’s Place, an adjacent hospitality center operated by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.
Located at the former Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, which merged with St. Katharine Drexel Parish in 1993, both outreaches provide critically needed support to an area where the poverty rate tops 31% and median household income falls well short of $33,000.
With just 34,000 residents, Chester also struggles with violent crime, and has consistently ranked as one of the state’s most dangerous municipalities.
But amid such challenges, hope and donations at the St. Katharine Drexel pantry “overflow,” said director Judy King.
“Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Buckingham donated about 3,000 pounds of food recently,” she said. “We still have barrels we have not yet emptied.”
Thanks to generous support from archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS), parishes, markets and individuals, the pantry provides an array of nonperishable items for clients, who visit St. Katharine on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Newly installed refrigerators, purchased with funding from a recent grant, keep fresh foods chilled; frozen selections are available as well.
In addition, said King, the pantry provides 35-pound “senior boxes” containing juice, powdered milk, cereal and pasta to supplement portions for older clients – although the number of recipients has dropped due to COVID.
“We used to get over 70 boxes,” she said. “But a lot of our seniors have passed away, so we had to cut down to 55.”
Like many food cupboards, St. Katharine increasingly stocks diapers, adult incontinence products, feminine hygiene supplies and other toiletries.
“Clients were always asking for them, so we can give that to them now,” she said.
Next door, “at least 100 people come” to the Tuesday and Thursday food distributions at Anna’s Place, a Franciscan hospitality center, said co-director and Sister of St. Joseph Cathy McGowan.
Opened in 2009 and named for Anna Bachmann, foundress of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, the center began distributing grocery and personal care items in March 2020, expanding its usual offerings of classes, bingo games and Thursday lunches.
During the archbishop’s visit, staff and volunteers handed out “Christmas in July” bags containing Wawa hoagies, funded by a benefactor.
When supplies dwindle, co-director and Franciscan Sister Margaret Gannon “puts a few pictures on Facebook and people come” with donations, said Sister Cathy.
The two ministries are equally committed to nourishing relationships and building community, said staffers.
As part of its mission statement, Anna’s Place fosters “an atmosphere where all feel safe and accepted” and affirms “the presence and giftedness” of individuals.
Satisfying spiritual hunger is an essential part of the St. Katharine outreach, said King.
When a non-Catholic volunteer inquired about a Divine Mercy image upstairs in the former church, King took time to explain the devotion.
“He said, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful,’ and he actually went online and read about St. Faustina,” she recalled.
“That’s the human part of it,” said Archbishop Pérez. “It’s more than just food.”
NDS executive director Lizanne Hagedorn, who accompanied the archbishop and several NDS board members on the July 22 site visit, said the outreaches “touch hearts and souls, and that’s what it’s about.”
Father Robert Ianelli, pastor of St. Katharine Drexel, agreed.
“We’re living the Gospel,” he said. “In Chester, there are a lot of challenges, but we’re offering a beacon of hope to the people.”
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103