A Benedictine Sisters Giveaway at the Food Pantry
Sister Diane helps a guest

Sister Jacqueline Sanchez-Small helped a young man carry the treasures he found. One item, in particular, stood out: a piece of art that Sister Jen Frazer had drawn of a mother holding her infant child. Sister Jacqueline listened to him as he said, “I have an eye for art. Now I have art. I am proud.”

Sister Judith Bohn added a dollar bill to a purse that she gave away, “I hope someone can buy a cup of coffee with it.”

Sister Mary Miller, the director of Emmaus, walked up to a woman who was one of the first people to arrive. The woman told Sister Mary that it was her birthday the day before. Sister Mary found flowers among the items to give her as a way of celebrating.

These three encounters occurred during the Erie Benedictine Sisters Giveaway at Emmaus Food panty—a time when items “given away” by the sisters are given away free to food pantry guests.

While the weather pushed the event back one day, food pantry guests and passersby still showed up on Tuesday morning, June 22, and found plentiful goods for themselves and for family and friends.

“It gives us great joy to be able to give away freely some of our own personal items: a beautiful cedar chest, a lovely nativity set, a warm quilt, a new suitcase, a precious Christmas ornament. These ‘things’ now connect us even more with those who rely on us for weekly food assistance,” said Sister Mary Miller, director of Emmaus.

The idea to hold this giveaway began when Sister Joan Chittister, an Emmaus board member, spoke on the topic of Art and Beauty over Zoom back in February. She told the story of the original giveaway held by the Erie Benedictine community at Emmaus three decades ago. The first items to be taken by guests were artwork and photographs, pieces of beauty. That initial giveaway served as a reminder of the importance and necessity of beauty in each person’s life. Many similar events were held in the years that followed.

After Sister Joan finished her talk, Sister Stephanie Schmidt, the prioress of the Erie Benedictines, asked Sisters if they would be interested in continuing this tradition. The response was an enthusiastic “Yes!” Sister Stephanie shared: “Beauty is essential to Benedictine spirituality. It delighted me that our Sisters were so generous in sharing beauty—in the form of art, books, and cherished decorations, among others—with some of the most vulnerable in our city. We hope to continue this tradition as a way to live part of Emmaus's motto: ‘Care for the soul.’”

During this year's Lenten season, the Benedictine sisters divested themselves of items that they felt might be enjoyed by others. The pieces were then gathered and collected in the chapel to create an image of the giving the Lenten season asks of us. The items were stored at the monastery until the actual event when about a dozen sisters helped to load trucks the night before and transport them to the Emmaus pantry.

Many sisters showed up early in the morning on Tuesday to assist with unloading, displaying, and organizing all they had collected, and some Sisters stayed through the morning to help guests load items in their cars and offer any help they could. Sister Lucia Surmik, the former food pantry coordinator even returned to lend a hand.

To watch Sister Joan’s talk on Art and Beauty—a lecture sponsored by the Pucker Gallery in Boston—follow this link.

Photo: Sister Diane (R) helps a guest with her items.

Sisters finish loading the trucks at the monastery
Sisters finish loading the trucks at the monastery
Sisters unload at the food pantry
Sisters unload at the food pantry
Sister Lucia returns to the food pantry
Sister Lucia returns to the food pantry
Sister Jen (L) plays the trumpet for Sister Mary
Sister Jen (L) plays the trumpet for Sister Mary
Sister Ann (L) and a guest carry items to the car
Sister Ann (L) and a guest carry items to the car
Many guests found new treasures
Many guests found new treasures
Sister Rosanne (R) helps a guest
Sister Rosanne (R) helps a guest