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St. John Vianney Interfaith Food Pantry serves the community for the holidays

December 20, 2013

In an average week, the St. John Vianney Interfaith Food Pantry serves about 112 families and gives away about 3,000 pounds of food to those in need. On Wednesday, the pantry served a little extra to its clients for the holidays.

The Interfaith Food Pantry was formed two years ago to address and serve the needs of less fortunate families in the county. In that first week, the pantry served 31 families from central Calvert, including Port Republic, Prince Frederick and Huntingtown, said Gordon Norwood, the pantry’s office manager.

Larry Donnelly, the pantry’s director, said he is happy to be able to serve the community but feels bittersweet about the increase in families served per week.
“It’s really sad,” Donnelly said. “With some of these families, both parents work, and they have kids. … Once they’ve paid their bills and bought gas, they’re wiped out. … What they get from us helps them keep up with bills.”
On Wednesday, in addition to getting the usual bags and boxes filled with canned vegetables, frozen meats and breads, each family received a box filled with everything needed for a holiday dinner, plus a 13-pound turkey, dessert, poinsettias and toys for children.
Donnelly estimated the pantry gave away 5,000 pounds of food Wednesday alone, compared to the 4,400 pounds of food given away at Thanksgiving, when the pantry served 163 families, including 91 children, 101 senior citizens and 159 adults.
“We have a fantastic parish and a fantastic community that has helped us,” Donnelly said.
With food purchased from the Maryland Food Bank and donations received from the church and community, partnerships with the local business community and a cooperative relationship with the End Hunger in Calvert County program, the pantry has been able to give away about 180,000 pounds of food since it opened, Norwood said.
“It’s just a joy and a blessing to serve the community,” Norwood said. “… We hope to have the resources to do this for as long as possible.”
In addition to volunteers from the church, student volunteers from Cardinal Hickey Academy and St. Mary’s Ryken High School came to help distribute the food.
“I can’t say enough about my volunteers,” Donnelly said. “They help make this run.”
Amanda Ortiz, 18, a senior at Huntingtown High School and member of St. John Vianney Catholic Church, has been volunteering for the food pantry since its inception. Ortiz works in the computer room helping to register and validate clients when they come to pick up their food, as well as striking up a conversation with them.
“I like talking to the clients and hearing about their day,” Ortiz said. “It’s refreshing to meet someone new all the time.”
Rocky Ragano, a weekly volunteer from Prince Frederick, said he enjoys “just seeing the smiles on the faces of people when they pick up their food.”
“Most people are very thankful and very nice and appreciative of what we do,” Ragano said.
Donnelly and pantry volunteer Don Mueller said they are amazed that whenever there is a need, someone comes through with a donation for what is needed. On separate occasions, the pantry has received checks to pay for a van, a truck and a dumbwaiter to carry food from one floor to the next to help the volunteers and to keep the pantry going.
“Whenever there’s a need, somebody comes through,” Mueller said.
The pantry is open from 3 to 6 p.m. every Wednesday next to St. John Vianney. To donate, log onto to the pantry’s website,, and donate through PayPal.
by Sara Newman Staff writer

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