From Sister Mary
Sister Mary

It was the most extraordinary of times. It was the most ordinary of times.

The extraordinary times need no explanation—COVID-19 changed all our lifestyles and routines. Emmaus was no exception. We had to alter our food distribution at both the food pantry and soup kitchen. We had to close our Kids Cafe until we can safely re-open.

On the other hand, it was the most ordinary of times. The needs of the poor and hungry in Erie have not lessened during the pandemic; if anything, they have increased. Thanks to our dedicated volunteers and staff, the soup kitchen and food pantry have remained open every single day during COVID-19. We may not be able to serve a sit-down meal, but every day 180+ soup kitchen guests receive a lovingly prepared and packaged hot home-cooked meal, a beverage, dessert, energy bar, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Likewise, our interaction with guests at the pantry is limited, but essential food bags are distributed to almost 400 households a week. And the Kids Cafe staff makes regular home visits to our children’s families to distribute food.

But all of us—guests, staff, and volunteers—miss what most of you do: the human interaction that COVID has erased. It’s one thing to distribute food, it’s another thing to sit and talk with people, to share stories, to offer comfort and caring.

I worry that we are missing the needs of our most vulnerable because we are not able to talk to them on a regular basis. If we are able to respond, it’s by chance. Two examples come to mind. In one instance I accidentally discovered that one of our soup kitchen guests who lived in a subsidized apartment building was told, along with all the other tenants, that the building was being sold and everyone had to be out within two days. It was the weekend; he had no money and so he slept three nights in the cemetery. Imagine, a cemetery! That was a first for me. Fortunately, Emmaus was able to respond when we heard of his situation.

A few weeks later a couple came to pick up their dinner at the kitchen, and I learned that they were sleeping in the woods behind a large department store on Erie’s westside and walking to the kitchen. She was pregnant! The couple had family in Baltimore and a promised job but no money to get there. Emmaus paid for a night at a downtown hotel, contacted their family to make sure they were welcome and had employment, and paid for their bus tickets. I wonder how many more tragic stories like this we’ve missed, stories that we normally would hear over an evening meal at Emmaus.

Like you, we are all anxious to get back to the “normal.” But in the meantime, in these most extraordinary times, I come to you again with an ordinary request: If you are able, can you donate to our annual appeal? No amount is too small.

There is so much to pray for in these troubling times. And so much to be grateful for. One thing I know for certain is that I am always grateful for you. My prayer for you this holiday season is that you take time to savor what so many of us took for granted—the gathering of loved ones around a table laden with food and the sharing of our life’s stories.

Sister Mary