Sisters help the hungry

Sisters Ann Marie Lostoski, Francine McDonald and Mary Ann Lostoski, OSF, drop off donations at the St. Winifred Food Pantry in 2019.

Margi Henderson remembers a man who came to her food pantry for assistance. “I used to donate here, but now I need help,” he told Henderson, the director of the Saint Winifred Food Pantry in Mt. Lebanon. He had lost his job and had a family to feed.

It’s a scene being replayed across the country since the pandemic began. The number of Americans experiencing hunger and food insecurity has grown from 35 million in 2019 to more than 50 million last year, according to the advocacy group Feeding America.

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank last October projected a 42 percent increase in food insecurity rates in the region.

“Our neighbors are hurting, and we must act now,” said Sister Janet Gardner of the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Providence of God. Sister Janet co-chairs the Catholic Sisters Leadership Council of western Pennsylvania, which is joining a national challenge by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious to fight hunger during Catholic Sisters Week, which is March 8-14, 2021.

For nearly a decade, her congregation has sponsored a Thanksgiving food drive at the Saint Winifred pantry. “My first year here, they showed up at the door with so much food,” Henderson said. “It was so wonderful, I cried.”

Now the sisters are inviting others to help them restock the pantry for the spring, collecting canned goods, nonperishable food items, personal hygiene products, toiletries and grocery store gift cards.

Other congregations will be busy as well. The Sisters of the Humility of Mary are donating their stimulus checks to several organizations that distribute food. They’re also ramping up food production at their 300-acre farm in Villa Maria, Lawrence County. Half their produce is sent to local food banks, shelters and parishes.

The Sisters of Saint Joseph of Baden will continue to donate produce grown in their three congregational gardens. Over the past eight years, the Sisters have given away 14,319 pounds of vegetables to area food banks and soup kitchens. They also raise chickens, which contributed 320 dozen eggs to the cause.

Sister Lyn Szymkiewicz with young people at one of their gardens in 2019.
(Photo credit: Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden)

The School Sisters of Saint Francis in West View are planning a food drive, requesting nonperishable food items, gift cards and funds for local families in need. The Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh will be making sandwiches for area homeless shelters and contribute financially to the Food Insecurity Program for students at Carlow University.

At La Roche University, the Sisters of Divine Providence, who hold a food drive every year during Catholic Sisters Week, will donate goods to the North Hills Community Outreach and their Providence Food Pantry.

“Each of us can collect food donations, create community gardens and contact elected leaders to ask them to work together to help our neighbors in need,” Sister Janet said.

And good news for that food pantry donor-turned-recipient. He has returned to work.

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Felician Sister Mary Francine Horos assists students in the pantry at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School in Coraopolis. The Felicians are donating $1,000 each to 19 different food pantries nationwide. (file photo)