Ministries of Mercy - Food & Clothing at 6363 9th Avenue North, Saint Petersburg, FL 33710 US - Santa Maria Mission Feeds the Poor
Santa Maria Mission Feeds the Poor
Ondina Hernandez, coordinator of Santa Maria Mission, right, sits, yellow pages on her lap, inside Santa Maria Mission talking to Nick Kinee, middle. Nick tells Ondina that his wisdom teeth hurt and asks for her help in locating a dentist. He visits the mission every Tuesday to get help with groceries and clothing. “It helps,” he says, “since I live on a fixed income.”
In 2006, Bishop Robert N. Lynch from the Diocese of St. Petersburg initiated the Ministries of Mercy initiative to support and foster parish ministries that serve the poor, suffering, and marginalized. The initiative was divided into five groups that identified where the need is; food & clothing, shelter, life, visitation, and health. The Ministries of Mercy are currently serving at the parishes and the following story highlights Santa Maria Mission’s food and clothing ministry which feeds and clothes more than 150 people each week.
Nick Kinee wears jeans, white sneakers, and a gray shirt while sitting on his wheelchair inside Santa Maria Mission. He’s about to pray over his meal and give thanks for the box of groceries and clothing he just received from the volunteers at the mission. The trip to the mission is a weekly occurrence for Nick. He says the food and clothing help because he lives on a fixed income.
Each Tuesday, Santa Maria Mission opens its doors to homeless adults, families living on a fixed income, and the elderly. Volunteers from surrounding parishes unite with the members of the mission to help pass out groceries and clothing and to cook a warm meal. “Our mission had a very humble beginning; we became the place where nobody was judged and everybody was welcomed,” Ondina Hernandez, coordinator of the mission says. We do this as the work of God. We are here to help with whatever humanity needs because this is the core of our faith. I am a firm believer in Matthew 25, “when I was hungry, you fed me…”
Santa Maria Mission of St. Mary Catholic Church celebrated its first mass outdoors with borrowed electricity from a neighbor on December 23, 2001. To help persons in need, the parishioners of the mission collected clothing and stored it in their 8-by-10 shed; soon after, blankets, pants, jackets, and shirts were being distributed to families.
Four years later the mission moved into a building and parishioners expanded their volunteer efforts. Today, the mission is equipped with kitchen cabinets, a stove, a grill, a prep table, sinks, picnic tables, and benches.
The mission relies on donations and volunteers. “We are blessed to receive help from the surrounding parishes; St. Timothy, Corpus Christi, and St. Paul,” Ondina says. “They send volunteers, conduct food, clothing, and furniture drives, and bring presents for the children during Christmas.
It’s Tuesday and lunch will be served at 10:30 am. On the menu: pork stew with potatoes over white rice. Gloria, who volunteers to cook, is the first to arrive at the mission to prep for the meal. She starts with the rice and the seasoning for the stew. “I enjoy cooking; I do it because I want to help and to serve God,” she says. A few hours later, Guadalupe and Aurelia, two more volunteers, lend Gloria a hand by cutting the meat and potatoes for the stew.
Evelyn and her husband have made the trip from Port Richey to assist Gloria in the kitchen. Evelyn’s job at the moment is to watch over 10 lbs of white rice simmering inside a commercial pan. “I never used to cook at home; my husband did all the cooking. But look at me now, cooking for more than 150 people!”
Her husband supervises and when the gas tank runs out on the grill, he quickly changes it. “Everyone helps out here; we sweep, clean, and cook. But most important, we laugh and socialize,” he says.
As the cooking goes on, more volunteers show up. They make their way to the other side of the room to set up white picnic tables. The tables are used to display pasta, cereal, canned tomato sauce, baby formula, pastries, and bread. Nearby, four more tables are being assembled for pants, shirts, jackets, and baby clothes.
One of the volunteers is Joe Terrazzini, a parishioner of St. Mary Catholic Church. He volunteers at the mission every Tuesday and at a nearby food pantry on Wednesdays. “My commitment has been to the poor and to doing anything I can to help. I do it because the love of God should prompt all of us to do as much as we can for our fellow man,” he says.
Outside, the day is warm and pleasant, and homeless adults, families and the elderly start to arrive. They wait in a line that stretches two blocks from the mission’s doors. Some have come in wheelchairs or bikes, others with children inside strollers, and some on foot carrying a grocery bag or cart.
When the doors open, the line moves towards the grocery and clothing tables. “The homeless and the handicapped are the first ones allowed in because this may be the only time when they get to be first at anything,” Ondina explains.
They say thank you to the volunteers as they receive their pork stew and white rice and make their way to nearby picnic tables to enjoy their food. The chocolate chip cookies and fruit punch are a hit with the children. “These families have never been to a restaurant; this meal is the closest thing to that,” Liliana Gimenez, a volunteer from St. Timothy Catholic Church says. “I do this because it is important and it makes me happy. I try to greet people with a smile and to be the face of Christ to them.”
Today, Nick needs more than just food and clothing. He reaches out to Ondina for help in locating a dentist. She pulls out the yellow pages and calls local dentists that may be willing to pull out Nick’s wisdom teeth. “They hurt,” he says, “it’s hard for me to eat my food.” Afterwards, Ondina slips away to later return with a pair of brand new, white sneakers for Nick. “I noticed these may fit you,” she says. His face lights up, he thanks her, and wastes no time putting them on. “Look, I even got myself a brand new pair of shoes,” he says.
To read about other parish food and clothing ministries, the Ministries of Mercy, other stories like this one, and to find a ministry near you in need of donations and volunteers click here or go to www.mom-dosp.org.
To volunteer at Santa Maria Mission to cook, serve food, or sort clothes, call Ondina Hernandez at 813-961-1061, ext. 323 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations of food and clothes are also needed. To view a list of items go to: http://www.stmarytampa.org/mission/foodlist.html.
Joe Terrazzini is a parishioner of St. Mary Catholic Church. He volunteers at Santa Maria Mission every Tuesday. “My commitment has been to the poor and to doing anything I can to help. I do it because the love of God should prompt all of us to do as much as we can for our fellow man,” he says.