It took an army of hands and generous hearts to complete the restoration of the former Louis Charbonnet family residence at 1839 St. Philip St. in New Orleans into the shiny, food pantry and social ministry headquarters of St. Peter Claver Parish.
The repurposed, two-story brick building, formally dedicated by Edmundite Father Michael Jacques on Mother’s Day, is called the SPC Misaada Center.
“Misaada” is an African word meaning service, and the building will host an array of services, including an expanded food pantry that relies on parishioner volunteers to distribute commodities to the needy from Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana. The building’s second floor will be used for medical screenings and other parish programs.
Deacon Allen Stevens said the food pantry isn’t simply a way to transfer food to low-income families. Rather, he said, it is a chance for parishioners to do something pro-active in helping the needy. Every Sunday, parishioners bring in canned goods, other nonperishable commodities and monetary donations to supplement the food that is provided through Second Harvest, an archdiocesan agency.
“They begin to see how we are participating and how we have to be the ones feeding the hungry,” Deacon Stevens said.
Young at heart
Parishioners such as Pearl Dupart, 84, are the lifeblood of the food distribution program. Dupart has been volunteering for the parish for 27 years, ever since Father Jacques became pastor. She has been a member of St. Peter Claver since 1950.
“God keeps me going,” Dupart said.
Dupart said she was inspired to volunteer through the example of parishioner Fern Brady, who always made sure to make out a monthly check for the parish food pantry.
“This is important because it’s serving people who are wanting for something and are not able to get it,” Dupart said.
The former Charbonnet family residence, which sits on the corner across from St. Peter Claver School, was flooded during Hurricane Katrina. Over a series of mission trips, a group of volunteers from Christ the King Parish in Seattle gutted and restored the building. The first floor includes a greeting area for people to sign up for food and other assistance. There is a large pantry and several refrigerators and freezers to store perishable items such as turkeys.
The second floor is the new headquarters of the parish nurse, who will be able to conduct routine blood pressure and other medical screenings, and also has room to provide training for groups. The Society of St. Edmund, which is Father Jacques’ religious order, also has an office to provide social services. The Edmundites funded much of the renovation of the building.
Deacon Stevens said it would be impossible without the help of parishioners to keep the program going. Every family seeking food assistance must fill out paperwork, and every commodity given out is charted on the computer to ensure it is being properly distributed.
“We take care of 300 people a month,” Deacon Stevens said. “Trying to track this would be a nightmare without all the help. Our hope is to increase the amount of food we can give them. We provide food to anyone who comes to the door. We try to stay within our borders, but if you come here, we will not turn you away.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.