By Savanna Kearney
What was once the campus for St. Pius V Catholic School is now the location for Catholic Charities newest food pantry. Although the pantry has been open to the public since April 3, Bishop Felipe Estévez blessed the building at its ribbon-cutting ceremony and volunteer appreciation Mass on Tuesday, April 30.
In 2017, St. Pius V and Holy Rosary schools merged to form the new Guardian Catholic School, leaving the old St. Pius school building unused. Located in the historic black community of Durkeeville, the new food pantry is part of a larger community outreach project. Bishop Estévez gave the go-ahead to establish the community center, which requires about $1.5 million in repairs to the building.
“Let us pray for the Lord’s gracious blessing on the Catholic Charities food pantry and those who labor for it,” said Bishop Estévez in his blessing. “Moved by your love, may they gladly devote themselves to assisting those in need and in misfortune. Kind are the hearts of those who serve and lead this new ministry with the pyre of the Holy Spirit of love, that they may have visions and blessings in abundance to minister in new ways in this community and to bring the love of Christ to others and build up your kingdom.”
The food pantry was previously located at Catholic Charities Jacksonville Regional Office at the Province Center, 134 E. Church St., but according to Nicola Barnack, director of development for Catholic Charities Jacksonville, the clients that regularly went to the old location were coming from the neighborhoods surrounding the old St. Pius V campus. In addition, the new location is more than double the size of the old food pantry.
“We’ve found that this location for our clients has been a welcomed change,” said Barnack. “We’ve actually increased the number of families that we’re serving by moving to this location.”
The new food pantry is at the center of what is known as a “food desert” in the community, meaning there is no fresh food or grocery stores available within walking distance for the residents.
“The majority of the people who come to us for food, come from this neighborhood. A neighborhood that has more than 40 percent of people living in poverty,” said Anita Hassell, CEO and diocesan director of Catholic Charities Bureau in the Diocese of St. Augustine. “And what comes with poverty? Lack of access. Lack of transportation.”
Last year Catholic Charities Jacksonville gave out more than 151,000 pounds of food to about 7,000 people thanks to their partnership with Feeding Northeast Florida and donations from the United States Department of Agriculture.
“Feeding the hungry and helping our brothers and sisters is right in the heart of what we do,” said Hassell.
Currently, the new food pantry location is open to the public on Wednesdays and Fridays, on a first come, first served basis. Individuals may arrive at 11 a.m. to receive a numbered ticket. Food distribution will start at 11:30 a.m. and end at 1 p.m. Clients are eligible to receive food once every 90 days.
To volunteer at Catholic Charities food pantry, email Cheryl Estevez at email@example.com or call (904) 354-4846. For more information about Catholic Charities email Nicola Barnack at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (904) 899-5505.