Parish works for victory against hunger

SENECA/WALHALLA—An Upstate parish has borrowed a page from history, adapting the World War II Victory Garden into part of its support of an agency that fights local hunger.

St. Paul the Apostle Church and St. Francis of Assisi Mission, located in Seneca and Walhalla, respectively, recently raised more than $3,000 for the Golden Corner Food Pantry, and they did it by selling the veggies that parishioners raised in their Victory Garden. A check presentation to the food pantry’s board of directors earlier this year marked the third year the parishes have taken this novel approach to fundraising.

“In three years, just the garden alone has raised more than $10,000 for the food pantry,” said Father William “Bill” Hearne, administrator. “Three years ago, a parishioner, Jack Hess, proposed it to me, and called it a ‘Victory Garden,’ from World War II. It’s a play on words, to use the money to help the pantry.”

The garden originally comprised the usual lineup of Carolina vegetables: tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, and peppers, but most-recently, parishioners added pumpkins, Father Bill said. The fresh produce is “sold” for donations each weekend from June through November in the narthex of St. Paul, and the donations are turned over to the food pantry.

Whether they tend to the garden or donate their money for the vegetables it produces, the project takes participants beyond just giving money and involves them first-hand with food, a most-precious commodity for too many families.

“We’re a tithing parish, so we tithe to a lot of social-service agencies,” Father Bill said. “But this is a more tangible way parishioners can get involved. It’s something you can see, touch and smell.”

Stephen Finger, a church member who is also chairman of the Golden Corner Food Pantry volunteer board, said that as much as the money raised from the Victory Garden means, it’s only one of many ways the two parishes help the agency throughout the year.

“St. Paul and St. Francis, as parishioners, are very generous — they are one of our largest contributors,” Finger said. “Twenty percent of our funding comes directly from the church or from the parishioners.”

Among the projects the parish has undertaken for the food pantry, Finger said they have sponsored around 300 families, making a yearlong commitment to provide supplemental food to each family at an average cost of $160 per family per year.

In addition, Finger said that many parishioners work at the food bank each week, packing boxes for those in need. The Golden Corner Food Pantry serves around 1,200 households in the westernmost corner of the state, and 10 percent of the pantry’s volunteers are parishioners.

“St. Paul and St. Francis are a very big part of making the food bank successful,” he said.

Photo provided: Wendy Van Ooteghem, front, and other volunteers from St. Paul the Apostle Church and St. Francis of Assisi Mission help the garden grow.