St. Monica’s SVdP pantry: ‘It’s always been about the kids’
September 23, 2014
HOUSTON — St. Monica Catholic Church on Houston’s north side is only a few weeks away from opening a new state-of-the art food pantry and basic needs center — the culmination of dedication, determination and a dream that began 45 years ago.
Nestled in Houston’s historic Acres Homes, the 3,400 square-foot facility will feature a large, energy-efficient warehouse space with walk-in-coolers, a conference area for outreach programs, a lobby for clients and private rooms for client consultations.
Jackie Shannon, president of the St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) food pantry at St. Monica, said she expects the new facility will serve about 500 families a month — up from about 300-400 families a month in 2013. The pantry serves families in ZIP codes 77088 and 77091.
“For Acres Homes, this is unbelievable. The clients are so excited,” Shannon said. “We’ll be able to provide more food services, more utilities, help more with rent. They won’t have to wait as long as we’ll have three offices in the pantry where they can come in and receive assistance.”
There’s room to offer new outreach services, such as GED preparation and courses on résumé writing and job-interview skills. “Clients are really excited about that,” Shannon said.
She has volunteered at the pantry for the past 10 years.
Funded by a $1 million Community Development Block Grant, the facility will also serve as a disaster relief center, with a backup generator, showers and room enough for cots or bedrolls in the event of an emergency. There is also a disaster relief team and plan in place, Shannon said.
At one time, Acres Homes — nine square miles loosely bordered by North Shepherd Drive to the east and Antoine Drive to the west — was considered one of the largest unincorporated African American communities in the U.S. until it was annexed by the City of Houston in 1967. It is home to some of Houston’s oldest families, and some of Houston’s most impoverished.
“The food pantry is extension of the mission of Christ,” said the Father John Ayang, S.O.L.T., pastor of St. Monica. “It’s a way of reaching into the community to help the poor, especially those who don’t have the means to care for themselves.”
The SVdP chapter at St. Monica began serving the community in 1969 out of an 8-foot by 8-foot room behind the altar of the old church, which the parish quickly outgrew. When the church was rebuilt in the late 1990s, the pantry moved into a 10-foot by 20-foot room in the church hall.
“For years we’ve just been trying to get things going right,” said Willie French Jr., one of the pantry’s 10 founding SVdP members and a driving force for the pantry’s longevity.
“Our main concern — back then and now — is the kids,” he said. “If they go to school hungry, they can’t learn.”
The drive to build a standalone pantry began more than 5 years ago — back when Bill White was Houston’s mayor. The idea was floated by White for support, said Allen Parker, one of the SVdP members who helped secure the grant. With White’s nod, SVdP formed a committee to begin the processes — and paperwork — needed to qualify for a grant. That meant talking to each city council member and various city department heads, developing a grant proposal, meeting legal and environmental reviews and other criteria.
“The most unique thing about us is that we have this attitude of never giving up,” Parker said, despite years of not enough room and no coolers for food storage. “We just scratched our way through it. Then this blessing came along, and we took advantage of it.”
The pantry is set to open Oct. 18 with a community celebration and a luncheon for sponsoring donors. Seats start at $200 per person or $2,000 for a table of 10. Donations will help fund the pantry’s programs. For tickets, call 281-477-3212, 713-412-7019, or email STMonica_SVDP@att.net.
More information can be found at stmonicahouston.com or on the pantry’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/pages/St-Monicas-Food-Pantry.