Screenshot 2021-08-05 141750

On a dreary gray Saturday in late November, a group from St. Anne Church brought a dose of warmth and sunshine along with food supplies to a Broken Arrow apartment complex.The parishioners made their way through the building, stopping at the doors of residents who indicated a need for food assistance.

On a dreary gray Saturday in late November, a group from St. Anne Church brought a dose of warmth and sunshine along with food supplies to a Broken Arrow apartment complex. The parishioners made their way through the building, stopping at the doors of residents who indicated a need for food assistance. Over and over again – with 55 boxes to deliver – the volunteers knocked, gave a cheerful greeting, and dropped off the food. Each box contained meat, eggs, rice, dried beans, raisins, powdered milk, orange juice as well as other assorted items. Packed and loaded that morning, the food came from the Ministry of Compassion pantry, a collaboration between St. Anne’s and Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma. A crew from the parish has been dropping off food at Treetop Apartments once a month since 2017. What transpires in this outreach involves so much more than groceries. Participants speak of the blessings of friendship, gratitude, seeing Christ in one another. Their enthusiastic conviction echoes the line from the Prayer of St. Francis: “It is in giving that we receive.”Father Matt Gerlach, pastor of St. Anne’s, pointed out that the ministry’s volunteers practice a corporal work of mercy in feeding the hungry. “But they (the apartment residents) also feed us in so many ways,” he said. “They also allow us to live out solidarity, a social teaching of our Church, in recognizing the residents as our brothers and sisters and working for their good.”Father Gerlach said the connection between Treetop and St. Anne’s over the past three years has been graced because of the approach of building relationships. Participants look forward to seeing the people they’ve come to know on the monthly visits. “It’s my time to give to God and my community,” said volunteer Monica Stuart. “I think this is what Church should be about – compassion and giving. If we don’t do this, I think we’re failing in our mission and spiritual life.”

Serving a need

The Ministry of Compassion at St. Anne’s, in partnership with Catholic Charities, operates a food pantry from a building on the south side of the parish grounds. About 60 volunteers pitch in on what has become a drive-through operation because of COVID. Clients at the Ministry of Com-passion may also receive financial coaching or limited help with rent and utility bills. Becky Wisdom, coordinator of the ministry, keeps a monthly tally of people and families served. In October 2019, there were 1,420 people who received assistance; in October 2020, the number grew to 2,032 people. “The love of Christ impels us, moves us forward. It’s what we’re called to do by our baptism. It’s what Jesus has asked us to do, what He’s compelled us to do,” Mrs. Wisdom said. Various sources contribute to the inventory of food on the shelves and in the coolers. Some parishioners leave items in the narthex of the church on Sundays. All Saints School conducts food drives. Reasor’s in Broken Arrow donates goods from its dairy, bakery and deli departments. The main source, however, is the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. Mrs. Wisdom said the ministry uses a box truck from Catholic Charities to pick up between 5,000-9,000 pounds of food per week. Prior to the pandemic, the weekly order ranged from 1,200-3,000 pounds. The outreach to Treetop Apartments developed in 2017 out of an inquiry from a parishioner who lived at the complex, about five miles from St. Anne’s. Organizers realized that many of Treetop’s clientele are elderly or disabled and on a fixed income. And so the question arose: Could the ministry come to Treetop?“Pope Francis talked about meeting people where they’re at, reaching out to the marginalized,” Mrs. Wisdom said. “Many people at Treetop do not have transportation. Some do. I like to refer to it as our ‘Love your Neighbor’ program.” Prior to COVID, volunteers would meet at St. Anne’s after the 8 a.m. Mass on the last Saturday of every month. They packed up the food, drove to the apartments and arranged a selection of groceries in the Treetop commons area. Residents could take the items they wanted. Everyone sat awhile and visited. A priest from the parish would occasionally come over to meet and pray with residents. But with the onset of coronavirus in 2020, the process switched to doorstep drop-off. Now no more than two or three volunteers go on the premises at one time, to allow for social distancing. Each volunteer group delivers about 10 boxes. “We had to adapt because of COVID,” said Janet McDaniel, who leads the Tree-top outreach with her husband, Bruce. “We miss them and they miss us.” About 55 apartment residents participate each month. The food they receive varies depending on the pantry’s available supplies. For November, the boxes included chicken, ground beef, trail mix, canned green beans, and dessert. Each box was labeled with the client’s name and apartment number. Ella Stewart, a sophomore at Bishop Kelley, volunteers with her parents. In November, the Stewart family added a festive touch by passing out Thanksgiving table centerpieces, google-eyed “turkeys” fashioned out of ornamental gourds. “It’s really nice to see the smile on their face when you deliver the food,” Ella said. “We’re helping people who have less. We’re kind of like acting like Jesus giving them food when they need it. At first, I didn’t think it was a big deal, but now I see what an impact it has.”

Scenes from Treetop

The Eastern Oklahoma Catholic magazine followed along in November to watch the Treetop outreach in action. The morning’s first volunteers, Mr. and Mrs. McDaniel, wore Catholic Charities “Love Changing Lives” sweatshirts. They transferred the food boxes from their curbside vehicle to two shopping carts, which they wheeled into the apartment building. Mrs. McDaniel knocked on a door that displayed the images of the Good Shep-herd and Mary with the infant Jesus. Fel-low parishioner Grace French lives there. She answered after a short wait. “I’ve got stuff for your guys to pick up,” said Ms. French, presenting a sack of clothing and a lamp.“Oh my goodness. How beautiful! Someone will be very happy to get this,” Mrs. McDaniel replied. The residents want to reciprocate in appreciation for the food, she later explained. Ms. French took the time to describe the Treetop outreach as “an absolute blessing, particularly for people who don’t have a way to get to the store. I really do enjoy it. It makes you feel like part of the family.” Along with the clothing and lamp, she gives back through her heart for intercessory prayer. Down the hall, Mr. McDaniel could be heard calling out “Hey, what’s up?” to someone. Minutes later, he knocked on a door and playfully announced “Room service.” He asked where the resident wanted the box placed. “Thank you, guys, for the food,” the neighbor called out. “Happy Thanksgiving,” Mr. McDaniel said in reply. Douglas and Monica Stuart arrived next. Mrs. Stuart explained that they volunteer because everyone should do their part to help others. She also cited Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.”Mr. Stuart put that teaching into practice with happy efficiency as he rolled his cart of deliveries to their destinations. “Good morning. How are you today?” he asked a woman who came to the door. “Bless your heart. Set it right there. You don’t know how much I appreciate this,” the resident said. “It’s our honor to do it,” Mr. Stuart answered. Another neighbor handed him a Thank You note that he brought back to St. Anne’s. The note read: “May the Lord Jesus bless you and keep you for your ministry of love and kindness to Treetop residents. May his face shine upon you and be gracious to you and may He grant you PEACE!” Prayer intentions occasionally get passed along as well. The visitors from St. Anne’s benefit from these interactions as much as the people who live at the apartment complex. The exchanges reveal Christian traits of joy and generosity, respect and hospitality, serving and supporting one another in imitation of our Lord.“I think it’s the residents at Treetop who have blessed us and fulfilled us in a way that we didn’t expect,” Mrs. Wisdom said. “When you look Christ in the eyes — which is what we do each time we encounter our neighbor, is we see Christ — your life is changed in a profound way. It’s an encounter with Christ once a month.”