Getting Back through Giving Back at the Food Pantry
by Mike Usiak
Being a member of the St. Teresa of Avila community has had a profound and lasting effect on my life. There are many great reasons to attend St. T’s, but it is the people who make me want to remain with St. Teresa parish. As I attended more functions and got to know more people it became clear that this was the faith community I had been looking for all my life.
I became directly involved when Fr. John Hoffman announced that St. T’s would begin a food pantry within the newly built parish center in 2002. A group of well intentioned but nescient parishioners met with two veterans of another pantry to discuss the business of helping those in need. It was slow going at first, but within a year we were distributing about 80 bags of groceries a month. This was truly a volunteer effort; the parish supplied a place to drop off donations, store them, and distribute them. It was the people of St. T’s that made operating the pantry possible by donating money, goods, and most importantly their time to purchase, pack and handout the grocery bags.
Over the next five years word spread, and the demand for groceries increased to 150 bags a month. Our parish responded by not only increasing the donations, but also by volunteering to help in many ways. What a blessing! The demand was even greater once the Great Recession began. The pantry, now with the full support of Fr. Frank Latzko , was distributing five times as much food compared to our first year.
The financial crisis also hit my family – costing both myself and my wife our jobs. While unemployed I became even more involved in the food pantry and loved doing it. Unfortunately, it was a passion that wasn’t going to pay the bills. My job search was aided by many of my St. T friends. The guests of the pantry offered words of encouragement, and even though many were in much worse shape financially, it seemed that their spirit was much stronger.
That is when I realized my new calling would be to to work specifically to help the unemployed and people lacking food security. Through my contacts I was introduced to the chef at Inspiration Kitchens, an award winning food service training program that has helped hundreds of individuals gain skills to find employment in food service and exit homelessness and poverty. Inspiration Kitchens was hiring staff for an expansion into catering business and I was hired as part-time kitchen help. I finally got my foot in the door of a top notch non-profit that was focused on helping the types of people that I saw at the pantry. Over time I was asked to coordinate the operations of the newly formed catering business which allows me the privilege of introducing many people to the fine work Inspiration Corporation does.
I truly feel fortunate that I have had such great opportunities in my life. Apart from my marriage to my lovely wife Nancy, one of the most important gifts bestowed by God has been my relationship with St. Teresa of Avila Church. To quote our patron saint,”What great favor God does to those He places in the company of good people.”