By Dave Jolivet
FALL RIVER, Mass. — It was one year ago last week that The Anchor ran the sad news that Sacred Heart Parish, a mainstay in the center of Fall River for nearly a century-and-a-half, would be closing.
The lone bright spot was that the parish’s soup kitchen and food pantry would remain open to serve the hungry hundreds of men, women and children who benefited from hard-working volunteers who helped feed them every Monday. Former pastor Father Raymond Cambra started the kitchen/pantry in 2004, and it remained a passion of his until his transfer to St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth in June.
With Father Cambra’s departure and other logistical factors working against it, the much-needed Sacred Heart Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry closed its doors for the final time, also in June.
With some due diligence, prayer and dedicated faithful, the new Sacred Heart Food Kitchen at St. Bernadette’s Parish will begin feeding the hungry again beginning September 14.
Father Jay Maddock, pastor of Holy Name Parish and administrator of St. Bernadette’s Parish, both in Fall River, earlier made an impassioned plea to parishioners to pray for someone to come forward, take the reins so skillfully handled by Father Cambra, and resurrect the soup kitchen and food pantry.
“Holy Name parishioners have always contributed food products to the Sacred Heart pantry,” Father Maddock told The Anchor. “We had a spot at the church entrance and it was always being replenished by very generous people.
“Plus many Holy Name parishioners volunteered at the kitchen on Mondays along with so many hard-working, dedicated people from Sacred Heart Parish.”
The very same week Father Maddock asked for prayers, Brendan O’Neill, who worked at the soup kitchen for about seven months, came forward and volunteered to lead the charge to bring back the vital source of nourishment for so many needy people.
“I came back to Fall River after living in Utah for eight years,” O’Neill told The Anchor, “and I returned to Sacred Heart Parish where I grew up.
“I started working at the kitchen on Monday nights, serving and helping in the kitchen. I, like so many good people who have worked there so much longer than I, were devastated by the news the kitchen would have to close.
“I heard Father Jay’s plea for help, and it got me to thinking, ‘I could handle that.’”
Father Maddock, O’Neill and several longtime volunteers met to work out a game plan. “We checked with volunteers to see if they would be willing to move to a new location, and many said yes, as long as it was still in Fall River and still on Monday nights,” said O’Neill. “We wanted to keep it at a parish, but we would have gone to a secular site if needed. Volunteer Bobby Bogan said the Boys’ and Girls’ club was a possibility if need be. Bobby helped us put out feelers to find a place.”
“We got permission from the diocese to seek a new location for the soup kitchen,” said Father Maddock, “and we began a search. Ultimately, we checked out the kitchen and hall at St. Bernadette’s Parish and we decided it was the place.”
“It was pretty close to perfect,” added O’Neill. “It had an operating kitchen and a large hall. It was on one floor and was handicap-accessible.
“Plus we checked with Carol and Paul Oliveira, who have run the Bingo evening at the parish for years, and they thought it was a great idea, as did the Bingo volunteers. Everyone at St. Bernadette’s was super nice and accommodating.”
The hall and kitchen at St. Bernadette’s is spacious and the parish also provided some additional storage space for the soup kitchen and food pantry supplies.
“Manny Mota, who had worked the Sacred Heart Kitchen for years, contacted the Sacred Heart volunteers and many agreed to come back,” said O’Neill.
O’Neill also said there was enough canned and dried food stuffs, and “a freezer-and-a-half” of good food left from Sacred Heart’s that would help them run the opening night kitchen on September 14.
“We have a good core group and we hope former volunteers will come back,” Father Maddock told The Anchor.
O’Neill, who attended Johnson and Wales Culinary Arts School, is a chef and has worked in food service, will handle the kitchen duties at the onset.
“This is great news, I’m thrilled,” Father Maddock said of the re-opening on September 14. “We had to keep the Sacred Heart name in the soup kitchen and food pantry because they have done so many great things and have helped so many needy folks in the past.
“I’m glad Brendan has taken this on. We’re going to get the word out about the re-opening and try to get businesses who have helped out in the past to continue to do so.”
O’Neill told The Anchor that press releases will be sent out and that Father Maddock is sending an email to every diocesan pastor to make it known in parish bulletins.
“And,” he added, “people who come for assistance have a great word-of-mouth communication system. I’ve also contacted Citizens for Citizens to have them get the word out as well.”
O’Neill said, “This will grow. We have an amazing group of people working on this. We’ll hit a few snags at first, but we’ll iron them out and this will be great. We’re doing just what Christ asked of us, ‘To feed the hungry.’”
Father Maddock added, “The leadership of the food pantry is grateful to Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., and the Diocese of Fall River for their support and encouragement to once again offer this service to people in need here in our city.”
Beginning September 14 and on following Mondays, the soup kitchen will be held in the church hall at St. Bernadette’s Church, 529 Eastern Avenue, Fall River, Mass.
Doors will open at 5 p.m. The entrance will be on the Bedard Street side of the church.
To volunteer at the kitchen, or to donate non-perishable food stuffs or assist financially, contact Polly at 508-677-0713.