GREENVILLE — Four mornings a week, people line up at the office of St. Anthony of Padua Church to receive help fulfilling one of the most basic human needs — food.
Monday through Thursday, volunteers hand out bags of nonperishable goods to individuals and boxes of groceries to needy families. For many of the recipients, it is all they have to keep them going from day to day.
Individuals, many of whom are homeless or have no cooking equipment, receive items such as peanut butter, applesauce, bottled water and crackers. Families are given four kinds of vegetables, soup, meat, grits, Ramen noodles, oatmeal and other basics that can make easy, nourishing meals.
Because of the declining economy, the average number of people served each week has jumped from around 242 in 2008 to more than 989 in the past few months, said Franciscan Father Patrick Tuttle, the pastor at St. Anthony.
The food program is just one of many ongoing efforts at the church, where social outreach has become a core value. The parish has a membership of about 411 households, which includes many African-Americans and runs the gamut on age, occupations and socio-economic background.
The outreach programs at St. Anthony started full force in 2005 when Father Tuttle took over as pastor.
“We had a large influx of new parishioners at the time, and we wanted to make sure that they had a sense of the social gospel,” Father Tuttle said.
Other ongoing programs include building affordable homes for families in the neighborhood; providing assistance with rent, utility bills and other emergency needs; and helping those struggling with addiction find counseling and obtain admission to halfway houses or rehabilitation facilities.
Parish volunteers also help with needs at St. Anthony of Padua School, collect funds for peace initiatives in the Holy Land, and in recent years have helped needy people purchase dentures.
Recently, a new bulletin board titled “A Servant’s Heart” went up at the parish. It lists services available in the area, plus the names of those seeking employment and employers looking for workers. Father Tuttle said four people found jobs in July through the bulletin board.
“St. Anthony parishioners are just very, very eager to put their faith into action,” he said. “We have a saying around the church that we want to be able to help people at every stage of life, ‘from diapers to Depends.’”
St. Anthony’s outreach work is well known around the Greenville area because Catholics all over the city have stepped up to help, Father Tuttle said.
Donations regularly come from area Knights of Columbus chapters, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, other parishes and schools. Students from St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville have held food drives, tutored children at St. Anthony of Padua and helped make repairs around the church.
Mary Corner, parish administrator, helps coordinate many of the programs, including volunteers for the food giveaways.
“We’re truly blessed to be able to help the people in our parish and in the community,” Corner said. “And our parish is blessed with people who are willing to help.”
Richard and Patricia Carnes are volunteers who hand out food on Mondays. He is a lifelong Catholic who joined the parish after moving to Greenville from Cincinnati, and he said the Gospel message to help the poor has become one of the core elements of his faith.
“I’m here because of a commitment to try to help my fellow brother and sister,” he said. “This commitment has grown in recent years. I feel it more than I ever had before in my life, especially through the work I’m doing here.”
Carnes said he and his wife were motivated to volunteer by the enthusiasm he saw in Father Tuttle and other members of the church.
His weekly interaction with the people who line up for the food program has opened his eyes not only to need in the community, but to the opportunity to share the love of God through his work.
“There seem to be little or no jobs for the unskilled labor force around here,” he said. “Every Monday I hear a couple more guys say there’s no hope of finding work anymore. And we hear from women who are homemakers having to put up with a lot of stuff, having problems just feeding their family. But they’ll come in, and they’re so appreciative. We give them staples — things like Vienna sausage, applesauce — and what has struck me is how they appreciate simple things like that. Many people look at me and say ‘God bless you.’ And I wish the same to them.”