St. Ignatius Parish to honor Church in the City volunteers who oversee Share-A-Meal and Food Pantry programs
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, October 2012) At the Boulevard Bash on Saturday, October 20th, St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish will honor Don and Arlene Spence from St. Ladislas Church in Westlake. Don and Arlene Spence have run the Church in the City Partnership’s Food Pantry and Share-A-Meal program at St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish on West Boulevard and Lorain Avenue since the program started in 1994.
Sister Dianne Piunno, Pastoral Associate at St. Ignatius Parish, who has worked closely with Don and Arlene Spence says, “Don and Arlene Spence with a ‘cast of thousands’ have made it their mission to care for those experiencing rough times. I have called them at any time of day or night to ask for their assistance when emergencies arise, and there is always an unquestionable response, ‘I’ll get right on it!’ What a tremendous response. To see the assurance on the faces of those who are eager to hear that response is truly the mission of our partnership with St. Ladislas Church, Westlake and Saint Ignatius of Antioch Church, Cleveland.”
“This partnership predated Bishop Anthony Pilla’s request that churches, far and near, work together in order to reach out to a greater number of people. Under the leadership of Don and Arlene, dozens of volunteers from both parishes have prepared and served numerous meals. They have set up, distributed, and put away enormous quantities of food for those in this near west side community who are hungry, in need, or just looking for social interaction,” said Sister Dianne Piunno.
Don and Arlene Spence coordinate the efforts of over 100 volunteers involved in gathering food, distributing it to those in need and serving community meals. It is not a new experience for the couple to coordinate a large group, after all, they raised 13 children (nine boys and four girls) and now have thirty six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
The Food Pantry they administer is held from 3:30-5:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month for residents living in zip codes 44102 and 44111. Over two hundred families have signed up for the Food Pantry, bringing in proof of residence and documentation of the number of people in their family. Participating families are given at least a three day, supply of food each month. Participating families and individuals pick food from tables in the cafeteria filled with items such as frozen meat & fish, cereal, milk, rice, pasta, pastries, bread and various canned goods. Volunteers from St. Ladislas and St. Ignatius parishes help fill the tables with food and pass out the goods from the tables. Participating families often bring shopping carts to fill with goods. Members of the Cleveland Guardian Angles help lift carts or boxes filled with groceries down the steps of Lorain Avenue entrance to the McIntyre Center where the school cafeteria is located.
The Share-A-Meal Program offers a hot meal and companionship on the first and third Wednesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. at the St. Ignatius Cafeteria. Over 300 meals are served each month. There is also a Food Pantry after each meal, where guests can choose from available items. On Share-A-Meal days, Don and Arlene Spence arrive about 2 p.m. to begin planning and set up for the meal. After the school children have left the building, other volunteers begin arriving from 3:30 – 4:00 p.m. The meal begins at 5:30 p.m. From ten to twelve volunteers help to cook and prepare the meals.
Arlene Spence says in 1993 when then Cleveland Catholic Diocese Bishop Anthony Pilla started the Church in the City Program, St. Ladislas chose to partner with St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in Cleveland. Arlene Spence says the staffs of the two parishes already had a relationship, so the partnership was a natural one. Don and Arlene Spence have high praise for the parish staff’s they work with to implement the programs.
Don Spense praised Fr. McGonegal and Pastoral Associate Sister Dianne Piunno from St. Ignatius Parish and Father Don Snyder and his predecessor at St. Ladislas, saying when I make a request for the programs, “they never give me any arguments.”
Arlene Spence says the program started slow. A volunteer Sunday was held at St. Ladislas and a core group from the St. Vincent De Paul Society at St. Ladislas signed on to help with the Church in the City effort. From that first volunteer Sunday the program has grown to a large operation. Volunteers from St. Ladislas were recruited to make regular pickups of donated food at the Westlake Pepperage Farm, Trader Joe’s and Giant Eagle stores and from people that call with food donations.
Volunteers go to Pepperage Farm to pick up donations of hundreds of loaves of bread. They also gather bread and produce donated by Giant Eagle. The Spences are particularly proud of their connection to Trader Joe’s. They said the daughter of a member of St. Ladislas Parish made the connection to Trader Joe’s. Don Spence said Trader Joe’s doesn’t freeze anything, thus they have meat and fish to donate on a regular basis. Arlene Spence stressed that, in order to make the agreement with Trader Joe’s for the donations, we had to agree to have a volunteer come each morning at a designated time to pick up the donations. Volunteers are each assigned a day to pick up the meat, fish and other goods from Trader Joe’s. Arlene Spence said the donations from Trader Joe’s are very important to the Food Pantry, “Without them we would not have meat.”
Other perishable food items, which can’t be used immediately, are given to other programs in the neighborhood such as St. Augustine’s Hunger Center, St. Herman’s House of Hospitality, West Side Catholic Center and the Keating Center.
Parishioners at St. Ladislas and St. Ignatius also donate funds to help the Church in the City Programs. “Our parishioners are so generous,” says Arlene Spence. Cash donations range from $1,000 to $1,500 per month. With these funds, Don Spence says he can make two trips a month with a large Ford van to the Cleveland Food Bank where he and volunteers purchase and load up about 3,000 pounds of food per month. Don Spence says the Food Bank provides food at a discount making it possible to serve about 300 meals a month for about $2 per person.
The Food Pantry Program also home delivers food to about 15 or 20 homes where individuals can’t get out. The volunteers making the deliveries try to determine what people like, says Don Spence. He says volunteers from the Keating Center now accompany the mostly elderly volunteers who deliver food to about 15 or 20 people who can’t make it out from their homes. Don Spence says there are too many steps to climb for many of the volunteers who are getting up in years, so the guys from the Keating Center, help with the deliveries.
Arlene says, “The Keating Center has been a blessing. Fr. Don Snyder (pastor at St. Ladislas) has been good to them. We always bring them donations of clothing and other household items. One hand washes the other.”
She says a core group of about eight people come all the time to help with the community meal and the food pantry. Other volunteers help when they can. While admitting that “Don organized all this, and me with him,” Arlene Spence praised all the many the volunteers involved with the program and all the generous people from both St. Ladislas and St. Ignatius Parish saying, “without the volunteers, we would be nothing.”
Don Spence says the Share-A-Meal Program, in addition to the adult volunteers, now has about 25 youths from the St. Ladislas Parish and St. Bernadette Parish youth programs. Don Spence says both guys and gals from the schools participate. He says the youth ministry coordinator, Amanda Naujoks, works with both parishes. He says the volunteer work is a good way for the young people to get to know each other better and people attending the meals enjoy seeing the young people. Members of the youth ministry groups act as servers bringing the trays to the tables. Don Spence says this is a “big help in avoiding spilled food.” He says prior to the youth ministry’s involvement, a lot of time was spent cleaning up the floor. He comments on the dedication of the young people, “Some come back from college and still want to serve.”
Don and Arlene Spence hope to continue to improve the Church in the City programs. They would like to recruit the help of more volunteers, especially from St. Ignatius Parish. Don Spence says they can always use more large freezer units in which to store perishable food. He says the program could use another stove and oven. The need, he says if for a large commercial stove with eight burners and an oven. The ancient stoves and ovens they now share with the school cafeteria are often in need of repair, he says.
Editor’s note: For more information about the Church in the City programs, to volunteer or to make a donation contact St. Ignatius of Antioch Director of Development Judy Ghazoul Hilow at 251-0300 ext. 124.