Parish Serves Community Through Weekly Food Giveaways


By Tony DeGol

“Helping hands are better than praying lips,” Mother Teresa once remarked.

In that spirit, the “Helping Hands” ministry group at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Altoona is out in force this month serving not only their fellow parishioners, but the entire community.

The parish is sponsoring a free food giveaway every Saturday morning in October from 9:00-11:00 a.m. in the parking lot behind the Broad Avenue church, and the goodies are not just for those in need.

“We are helping the farmers,” parish secretary Charlotte Sommer stressed. “They used to give a lot of produce and food to restaurants and schools. They can’t right now because of COVID, so the government buys the food and gives it to distributors, and they branch out and find places such as ours to give it out, so anyone can come.”

One of the distributors – Lancaster Foods – is owned by a Baltimore couple with local roots. They wanted to give back to the Altoona area, Sommer explained, and chose Our Lady of Lourdes as a distribution site.

The items in the 30-pound boxes may change each week. Milk, eggs, potatoes, onions, lettuce, and hot dogs were among the many treats offered on the first Saturday of the initiative.

Car after car streamed into the parking lot on week one to take advantage of the opportunity, and every recipient was greeted warmly by members of the parish’s Helping Hands group, religious education students, and other volunteers.   

“Today, I’m directing traffic making sure no cars run into each other and making sure they go in the right direction,” said OLOL parishioner Michele Dietzel. “It’s so nice that we can do something nice for the families of the parish and also the community. It’s a win-win situation. It helps the farmers and also our community.”

Parishioner Allison Gressler said the initiative is important regardless of the pandemic.

“It shows the community that we care, it shows that we love them, and it shows the outreach we are trying to do,” she emphasized. “I love our community, so giving back to them and helping others is what this give-away is all about, so I’m glad that we’re doing this for Altoona.”

Melissa Summers is a member of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Altoona and volunteered her time and talent at the distribution.

“Anything to help the community is a great thing. There’s a lot of negativity out there, and it’s just great to see something positive that’s helping people and truly nourishing their body and mind. Just seeing the smile on people’s faces is wonderful.”

With plenty of food on hand for week one, the volunteers made sure to spread the wealth not just with those who showed up at the church, but by also bringing boxes to homebound parishioners and sharing with charitable organizations.

Teens Sean Bettwy and Alexander Yost gave up their Saturday morning to deliver some of those boxes in the neighborhood around Our Lady of Lourdes.

“We can help people and actually make a difference, and it lights a fire under us to do it more often and to get more people to do it as well,” Bettwy said.

Editor’s Note: For more on the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish food giveaway, watch Proclaim! TV on October 11 at 10:30 a.m. on WATM ABC 23.

[Photos: (Top) A group of volunteers welcomes people to the first food giveaway at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. (First Inset) Volunteers load a box of food into the back of car. (Second Inset) Many of volunteers pose in front of the food distribution truck.]