In October, St. Anthony Church in Ratcliff had the reverse version of the Bible depiction of Jesus feeding five thousand with just five loaves and two fish. The parish instead had plenty of food, ready to feed whoever came to the parish hall for a free meal, their newest outreach effort. No one showed up.
But just when hope seemed lost, a far greater blessing happened. Instead of waiting for people to come, about 20 to 25 parishioners have been preparing meals to deliver the last Saturday each month and to about 40 or so homebound, elderly and low income in the Ratcliff community, both Catholics and non-Catholics.
“Anytime you reach out to the poor and help serve the poor I think you grow,” said Pat Stengel, who along with her son Adam and daughter-in-law Marcela Stengel, helped organize and lead the new ministry. “Just seeing their kindness and their appreciation, in my experience most of the poor are very rich in faith. Helping to tap into that has been very rewarding. Our parish working together on a project — the people that help really believe in — it’s inspiring to see that as well.”
In September, Pat, Marcela and Adam Stengel, attended the national Parish Success Group workshop held in Altus, designed to help parishes determine what populations they can serve better. St. Anthony has about 80 parishioners, many of whom are elderly or homebound.
“It just clicked for us; I think it was the Holy Spirit definitely was a part of that,” Pat Stengel said.
Give Us This Day was born.
Food is given to the parish program by the River Valley Regional Food Bank and Trinity Pentecostal Church of God in Magazine. Most food is free, but there is a fee for certain items at the food bank. Money toward the program comes out of the general church budget.
Deacon Kenny Stengel, Pat’s husband who volunteers with the program, said the people they serve are not looking for a handout, which is why he believes no one initially showed up when it was offered at the parish.
“But they’re willing to, if we bring it to them, they’re glad to have it and appreciative,” he said.
Marcela Stengel, a native of Honduras who moved to the United States in 2007, plans out the meals.
“I listen to the Holy Spirit; whatever food comes or donations, we plan around that,” she said. “So far it’s always been very clear to us what we’re going to cook the next time because of what is provided to us. For example, we were getting a bunch of tomatoes, so we started making a sauce for spaghetti.”
Volunteers arrive by 9 a.m. to prepare the food in the parish hall and by 11 a.m., volunteers are driving to homes to deliver meals. Its most recent delivery included 43 meals of vegetable beef soup, biscuits and blueberry cobbler — made because of an influx of blueberries. There were also 40 donated bags of groceries distributed.
“We get to visit a little, that’s the main thing,” Deacon Stengel said.
He delivers food to a couple whose wife is going through chemotherapy, a daughter and her 92-year-old mother who are low income and a neighbor who is not Catholic.
“She lives by herself” since her husband died 20 years ago, he said. “ … She loves to talk, so I go there last so I can visit a little longer. She’ll just go on and on and she said not this weekend but last time, ‘You all have so much food in there for that meal I made three meals out of it.’ She was really tickled.”
Marcela, who worked with the Missionaries of Charity in Honduras and other service work, has missed serving, but has continually visited the elderly. She took the words a priest said to heart of using her talents where she is.
“I don’t have to be in a poor country to do mission work, I can do it right here,” she said. “Having a heart for service and having a heart for helping, I think that’s how the Holy Spirit led us to this program,” she said, adding she and her husband also involve their three children, Maria Teresa 13, Thomas, 11, and Ana Clara, 7.
“You can see their hearts growing as they do this in generosity and kindness,” Marcela Stengel said, adding you can read or show videos to children about volunteering and compassion, but when they regularly experience it “it becomes a part of who they are.”
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