St. Mary’s Cathedral parish revives food pantry operation


By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

FALL RIVER, Mass. — As a parishioner at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River, David Holt felt it was important for the “mother church of the diocese to lead by example,” he said.

That’s why he recently stepped up to organize a food pantry collection and distribution outreach program for the parish.

“I really think we should be leading by example,” Holt recently told The Anchor. “I also think we’re definitely in a good location, being in the heart of the city in a needy area.”

Although the parish had supported a similar food pantry operation as recently as 2012, it hadn’t been running in recent years and Holt felt the need was still very much prevalent.

“I know the cathedral had something years ago, before I became a parishioner,” he said. “I’ve been a parishioner for five years now, and in that time there hasn’t been any type of community outreach (like this) as far as I know.”

And as someone who described himself as being “pretty involved” with the parish, Holt would know. He currently teaches third-and fourth-grade Religious Education classes and also serves as a special minister of Holy Communion.

So when Father Richard Wilson transitioned in as rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral last year, Holt thought the food pantry might be a good opportunity to “build the parish community.”

With Father Wilson’s blessing, Holt has been busy transforming one of the rooms inside the parish Religious Education Center — the former St. Mary’s School building at 327 Second Street — into a food pantry.

“We’re looking for donations of non-perishables and we’re going to have a parish event and we’ve got a couple of different ideas to fund-raise,” he said. “I’m hoping that sometime during the latter part of March we’ll be able to have our first parish distribution day.”

For Holt, charity and volunteer work like this are part and parcel of what it means to be a Catholic.

“When you’re talking about Christ’s call for the Corporal Works of Mercy, there are other things I’d like to do and I’ve talked to Father Wilson about expansion once the pantry is up and running,” Holt said. “I’d like to see if we can maybe go out and visit nursing homes, visit the sick, clothe the needy, and do different things like that.”

Holt’s desire to share this Catholic charity is even more compelling given the fact that he is a recent convert to the faith.

“Prior to coming to St. Mary’s, I wasn’t a parishioner anywhere — I actually came to the (Catholic) faith,” Holt explained. “I did my Religious Education with Deacon Peter Cote and I was subsequently baptized, received my First Communion and Confirmation and was actually married at the cathedral.”

Holt’s prior community service experience with the Salvation Army also came in handy when he decided to organize the cathedral’s food pantry.

“I’m an active advisory board member with the Salvation Army, so I’ve been involved with this type of community service before,” he said. “I’ve been on the board for about a year-and-a-half now. We do various programs and fund-raising. They are a great group, too, and they provide a tremendous service to the Fall River community.”

Working with some volunteer parishioners whom Holt described as a “good core group of people,” their initial plan was to begin by collecting food for other parishioners in need.

“We are now collecting food to supply them and once we get the ropes down and have the pantry fully stocked, we’re hoping to expand outside the parish,” he said. “Our initial idea was to have one Sunday a month where people can come to us and pick up stuff at the food pantry.”

Holt said they are now seeking donations of non-perishable items, food staples and basic necessities.

“We need things like soap, shampoo, razors, shaving cream, feminine products, diapers,” he said. “As far as non-perishables go, we’ll take anything, but the staples are important — things where you can put together a simple meal that represent the basic food groups. You never want to turn away anything, but you can’t do much with just cans of peas and corn. Pasta is great, peanut butter is a huge staple — it’s got protein and all you need is bread. Canned meats can last a while and that’s something you can build around as well.”

There are currently collection baskets located at the back of St. Mary’s Cathedral where items can be dropped off before or after Masses, but Holt said people are welcome to contact him directly if that’s not convenient and he will arrange to have someone come pick the items up.

Holt said he’s grateful for the support he’s received from fellow parishioners and Father Wilson in this endeavor.

“Father Wilson had a great idea that during the weeks of Lent, each week we’ll have a certain item that (parishioners) can bring in — so instead of just giving up something for Lent, they can actually donate something,” he said. “You know, maybe one week will be pasta sauce, one week will be peanut butter. So we’re hoping to do something like that for Lent.”

Speaking of Lent, a fund-raising event will be held on Mardi Gras weekend on Saturday, February 10 to benefit the new food pantry. The evening will be held at St. Mary’s School (across the street from the cathedral) and will include music and food. Tickets will be available after Masses this weekend (January 27-28) and again on February 3-4 and the price of admission is a freewill donation. Attendees are also asked to bring non-perishable food items with them.

Given St. Mary’s Cathedral’s close proximity to downtown Fall River and the former Sacred Heart Church which hosted a vibrant soup kitchen and food pantry operation before the parish closed in 2014 and the soup kitchen moved to St. Bernadette’s parish, Holt said he thinks the new operation will certainly fill a void.

“It’s one step at a time, but I think we’re making progress,” he said. “We’re putting one foot in front of the other and it’s a positive step forward. It’s a big undertaking and it’s something that takes a little bit of time and a little bit of planning, but things are looking pretty good.”

For more information about the food pantry at St. Mary’s Cathedral or to make a donation, contact David Holt at 774-201-9994 or email davefh0_0@yahoo.com.


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