About a year and a half ago I met with several parishioners here at St. Michael Orthodox Church in Southbridge, Massachusetts to see if there was some way that we could aid in the relief of the economic situation in town. St. Michael is a small older church in the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese and really had never been involved in anything like this.
Southbridge is an old mill wn like many in Massachusetts. However it is one of the most economically depressed towns
in Central Massachusetts. More than 12% of the 17,000 people are on unemployment and 15% live at or below the federal poverty limit. Additionally, 23% of children under 18 hungry. We needed to do something.
We decided that we would begin a monthly community meal. Keep in mind we have never done this before and we did not even know where to begin nor how many people would show up. That first night we fed about 45 people and it has grown steady since that first night. We are very grateful to all of the folks that come and help us serve the meal it is just as important to them as it is to the folks that partake of the meal. The meal we serve has left a lasting impact on the entire church community.
Last fall we applied for a grant from FOCUS North America with the idea of expanding the meal from once a month to twice a month, looking toward a time that we would offer this meal once a week. January of this year saw our first twice-a-month meal and in February we had so many people that we actually ran out of food—and when I say ran out I am saying we had nothing! Luckily only the workers were unable to have something to eat and all of our guests were able to eat. One thing I have noticed is that people come and eat and now they hang around and chat over a cup of coffee and a pastry and catch up with friends and really look at this as a social time for themselves. It has truly been a blessing. If it was not for the generosity of the donors to FOCUS North America and the FOCUS Board we would not have been able to expand this program. In our own small way we are able to help some very needy people survive a very trying time.
May God Bless the work of FOCUS North America!
Fr. Peter Preble is the pastor at St. Michael Orthodox Christian Church in Southbridge, Massachusetts. Visit his website to learn more about his ministry.