Serving Dignity One Basket at a Time
By Katie Fiermonti | Photography by Charlene Graham
It was never just about food when, in a church basement twenty years ago, several parishes in Nashua came together to provide food for the city’s hungry. Today The Corpus Christi Food Pantry and Assistance (CCFP&A) has a new home from which it continues to respond compassionately with whatever resources it can muster to assist those in need. From its modest beginnings CCFP&A’s aim has been, as it name suggests, to extend Christ’s hands to people in a way that recognizes and affirms their dignity.
Corpus Christi’s recent move from the basement of Saint Stanislaus Parish to a more accessible space in the former Infant Jesus Convent located on the grounds of Saint John XXIII parish at 3 Crown Street will allow the organization to serve more people more efficiently in a comfortable and private setting. The move has been enthusiastically welcomed by its board of directors, employees, and volunteers, as well as the people they serve.
Initially founded as a food pantry, CCFP’s mission expanded in 2004 when the board recognized that families that are food insecure are experiencing other insecurities as well. The organization added an “A” to their name and began to offer what other assistance they could to people coming to the pantry.
The following parishes help supply and staff the food pantry: Saint John XXIII, Immaculate Conception, Parish of the Resurrection, St. Aloysius of Gonzaga, St. Christopher, St. Joseph the Worker, St. Patrick, and St. Stanislaus. CCFP&A is also supported by the diocese, the Souhegan Deanery, local businesses, schools and organizations.
The food pantry generally sees 300-400 families a month, says Susan Dignan, Director of the food pantry. “We provide healthy, nutritious pantry items to clients for breakfast, lunch and dinner choices, including about 10,000 ‘homemade’ meals a month.”
Kay Golden, the pantry’s Assistance Director, notes that in 2017, the assistance program served 572 families, or 1535 people, and that 277 families received some type of financial assistance, totaling, more than $35,000. “We provide a short term safety net,” she says, “for those who do not qualify for government assistance or for whom assistance is insufficient or delayed. We are often able to help with financial needs such as rent, utilities, local bus transportation, gas and dental payments. We work toward preventing homelessness and our primary goal is to always treat each person coming to us as if they were Christ himself, to respect their human dignity.
“Once,” Kay recalls, “we helped a woman and her children avoid eviction by helping with rent. Her benefits had been delayed by a government computer mix-up – a common problem. In addition, one of her children was severely disabled and needed specialized medical treatment in Boston. She had no money for gas to get her child to Boston. We were able to help with this.”
Diana Lavash, a board member who helped coordinate the move to the new location, emphasizes that the organization serves the greater Nashua area in a variety of ways, and that no church affiliation is required to receive services, which are offered without regard to race, religion, country of origin, or gender. “From the pantry we provide eggs, milk and butter, as well as produce, meat and bakery items. We also deliver food to three low-income elderly housing complexes every week, distribute Thanksgiving and Easter meals, and partner with Meals for Kids, supplying 60 bags of food to local school children in need twice a month.”
About eighty people work a combined 140-150 hours per week at the agency, where, on any given day, fifteen to twenty volunteers help set up appointments, sort and organize inventory, shop, or drive and unload the van. Since Infant Jesus School is associated with Saint John XXIII Parish, the students and educators at the school will now have the opportunity to become actively involved in the work of the pantry.
“It’s humbling,” says Mary Thomas, a volunteer from Parish of the Resurrection. “I feel blessed to know that we are doing something that is impacting, at least on a small level, a sometimes hidden issue that exists in our community. We come from different parishes to create a cohesive faith environment where we work together in our shared goal of supporting a vulnerable population.
“Human dignity is the primary goal of Corpus Christi,” adds Kay. “Yes, we give food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and money to help prevent homelessness, but since there is little dignity in having to ask for help with the basics of human life, it is vital that we serve our clients with respect.”