By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
A new strategic partnership between Catholic Charities of Dallas and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul created a food program that has generated positive feedback and fruitful innovations since its launch at Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church in Irving in December.
Organizers said that the charities, which represent the two main service arms of the nine-county Diocese of Dallas, began in 2014 to discuss the food program collaboration—the “Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Holy Family of Nazareth Conference Food Program.”
Bill Keffler, the chief operating officer for the Diocese of Dallas, said that the initiative demonstrates Bishop Kevin J. Farrell’s commitment to promoting collaboration among entities in the diocese.
“The bishop wants our agencies to work together to best serve those in need,” Keffler said. “Customer service, optimism, outreach and service to others seem to be well-reflected in this project.”
Father Albert Becher, the pastor of Holy Family of Nazareth, said that the new program unites the charities in a ministry that epitomizes Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy.
“It is a beautiful ministry and a joining of forces to help the needy,” Father Becher said. “I consider it a blessing for our parish, our ministry and people. It’s a Gospel in action.”
In its first two fully operational months, the new partnership distributed 36 boxes of more than 1,200 pounds of food to help 26 families totaling 89 people, said Ryan Bennett, the program manager at Catholic Charities’ Financial Stability and Career Services Division. He said that the new food program differs from conventional pantries in that people in need do not come to a facility to pick up staples, but receive customized food deliveries in their homes during visits by members of Holy Family’s St. Vincent de Paul conference.
Catholic Charities of Dallas, which is an agency partner of the North Texas Food Bank, boxes the food at its San Felipe Food Distribution Center in Dallas. Bennett said that food donations, including those from Holy Family parishioners, contribute to the customized packages that Catholic Charities’ food trucks transport to a Holy Family-owned building near the parish. Holy Family’s Vincentians pick up the boxes and take them to individuals and families at their homes.
Bennett said that the collaboration’s database allows the St. Vincent de Paul members at Holy Family to inform Catholic Charities’ staff and volunteers at the San Felipe center of the specific food needs.
“The missions and values of Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul are aligned,” Bennett said. “The Society of St. Vincent de Paul will continue to help the people they normally would help, but what is new is that Catholic Charities of Dallas will supply the food packaged in what usually is one week’s worth of food for each individual or family. By having us provide the boxed food, the Vincentians can focus on their mission, service and house visits. They can spend more time addressing other needs and social services.”
Bennett said that he met with members of the St. Vincent de Paul conference at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on March 8 to give them a tour of the facilities that are part of the new food program.
He said that they had called him about learning more about starting a food pantry.
“They were interested in seeing how it works,” Bennett said. “We’re excited, because this is what it is all about.”
Keffler said that the strategic partnership offers a great example of collaboration and exciting potential.
“In keeping with Bishop Farrell’s interest to promote collaborative relationships within the Catholic community, the Holy Family Food Pantry is an outstanding partnership between the two key service providers of the Dallas Diocese,” Keffler said. “The positive contributions resulting from this initiative between Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul provide an invaluable service to those in need of such assistance.”
Michael Pazzaglini, the executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Diocesan Council of Dallas, Inc., said that he was interested in Catholic Charities’ food service from when he began in his position with the Society in August 2014.
He started meeting with Bennett later that year. Pazzaglini said that they spoke with several of the 36 St. Vincent de Paul conferences in the Diocese of Dallas.
“I was aware that in Irving there was a huge need for food, and many of the requests that Holy Family of Nazareth’s conference was getting were for food,” Pazzaglini said. “What’s unique about this food service idea is that we incorporated food into the Vincentians’ home visits. We’re relationship-building. We work with families long-term.”
With the partnership’s groundwork in place, Catholic Charities of Dallas and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — which dedicated the new program with a ceremony at Holy Family of Nazareth on Dec. 16 — came together to coordinate long-term recovery efforts after deadly tornadoes struck North Texas in late December.
Cristi Martinez, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Conference at Holy Family of Nazareth, said that the new partnership gave everyone involved the sense of being ground-breakers.
“We feel wonderful about it,” said Martinez, whose conference has 18-20 Vincentians. “We feel like pioneers. There’s been so much discouragement in what we hear. We can say, ‘If you’re hungry, we’re going to feed you.’ ”