Catholics help groups provide Thanksgiving meals to the needy


For The Dialog


Volunteers will fan out across southern Queen Anne’s County, Md.,  the Saturday before Thanksgiving, bringing something to be thankful about to some 400 families.

The Feed-a-Family volunteers will deliver food baskets containing turkeys, chickens, and items for all the trimmings of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, courtesy of a dozen churches, local businesses, schools, and other organizations from Centreville to the tip of Kent Island.

The bad news: Feed a Family director Bobbie Bell, a member of St. Christopher Church in Chester Md., who is Feed a Family director, said requests for help are sharply up this year from the 330 families served last year. The good news: “There are a lot of people who are helping the needy. It’s just family-to-family.”


Feed a Family is one of many programs operated by or supported through Catholic parishes and agencies in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that provide a brighter holiday for thousands of families at Thanksgiving. They range from individual parish and St. Vincent de Paul Society drives to organizations such as Catholic Charities at locations in Wilmington, Dover and Georgetown, Md., and Princess Anne, Md.; Joseph House Ministries in Salisbury, Md.; and St. Martin’s Ministries in Ridgely, Md.

“People are more sensitive to helping out in some way during the Thanksgiving and Christmas timeframe, but that is good for us,” said Jean Austin, chief executive of St. Martin’s Ministries. “We are able to give each family either a roasting chicken or a turkey because we have donors who want to help pay for the extra food.”

St, Martin’s Ministries offers a wide range of assistance to the poor of Caroline County. The emergency food program served 320 families, 853 individuals, in October; Austin anticipates the number for November to be between 320 and 340 families, since October and November are the busiest months of the year for the food program.

“Those we are helping are having a really tough time,” Austin said. Caroline County is one of the poorest in Maryland. Six of the 10 poorest counties are on the Eastern Shore “so people who live in poverty here can’t easily pick up and move to the next town or country for better opportunity.”

Joseph House Crisis Center director Dave Heininger said the numbers helped through that multi-service agency remain steady from year to year. This year the agency has provided about 2,000 bags of groceries each month to about 1,000 families. A major food drive for Thanksgiving and Christmas in November and December brings in about six tons of groceries. In the days before Thanksgiving the food program will distribute 175 turkeys and 350 chickens.

“Ninety percent of our groceries are donated by individuals and food outlets,” he said.

Joseph House was started in 1984 by Sister Mary Elizabeth Gintling, founder of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary.

Catholic Charites has a number of Thanksgiving-related programs.

In New Castle County, Wilmington Catholic Charities is teaming again with the Rotary Club to deliver Thanksgiving baskets to a hundred families.

“This program was a major success last year, and we are well on our way to having it be a success this year,” said Shavonne Brathwaite, Catholic Charities’ basic needs program director. Catholic Charities offers year-round food programs throughout Delaware and in Princess Anne, Md.

Feed a Family began about 20 years ago through Kent Island Methodist Church, which is the official sponsor. Bell became involved through a friend who directed the program. It expanded to other churches, including St. Christopher, and Bell became director 10 years ago.

Turkey tags containing information about a particular family, along with a suggested menu, are available at churches. Families take a tag and deliver the food to a commercial space donated at the Kent Narrows Outlets for double-checking, labeling and distribution. Poultry and other food items are also donated by brand name companies and local businesses. Church and civic organizations provide the volunteers for the effort; one night is dedicated for young people including church youth groups and Scouts.

Our Mother of Sorrows Church in Centreville joined the Feed a Family network this year. Dorothy Hamm of the outreach ministry at Our Mother of Sorrows said the new association will help her parish’s five-year-old ministry better utilize its resources. In recent years the parish provided about 200 Thanksgiving baskets in addition to food baskets at Christmas and Easter, as well as a wide range of emergency assistance.

“This gives us a chance to partner not only with St. Christopher’s but a number of other churches in southern Queen Anne’s County,” Hamm said.

While Feed a Family also helps those who need food assistance beyond the holiday. Bell said excess donated food products are sent to food pantries such as the one at Our Mother of Sorrows and food banks.