The White Plains Examiner

St. Bart’s Soup Kitchen and The Lord’s Pantry to Host Hunger Concert

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Fr. Gawain de Leeuw
Fr. Gawain de Leeuw

The community is coming together on Sunday, April 27 to support two important hunger-fighting initiatives in White Plains – The Lord’s Pantry and St. Bart’s Soup Kitchen. Both are housed at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Prospect Street in the Highlands.

Fr. Gawain de Leeuw, pastor at St. Bart’s has been involved in many justice-making projects in the neighborhood over the years, working with like-minded congregants and friends who have been coming together in increasing numbers recently to roll up their sleeves and set to the task of trying to make as big a dent as possible in the growing problem of hunger in the region.

Former White Plains Councilman Dennis Power, co-founder of the Friendly Gathering fund-raising event held in March around St. Patrick’s Day and a participant in the upcoming hunger concert said: “We wanted to pull people together around a humble cause. Hunger continues to show its ugly face in our region. It’s a big issue. We need to raise awareness and find a way to contribute, even if it is in a small way.”

Dennis Power
Dennis Power

Because St. Bart’s houses its own soup kitchen as well as the Lord’s Pantry, Power said it was a logical place to begin, and that the work being done there is reminiscent of the work done by local hunger warriors during the 1980s.

White Plains was prominent during the 1980s for grassroots efforts like SHORE (Sheltering the Homeless is Our responsibility) and efforts by Grace Episcopal Church to combat homelessness and hunger.

Yet, while Power said a similar energy was causing restlessness among people wanting to get involved in social justice causes, he said things are different now. “In some ways it’s even harder to get your hands around it. There is a significant amount of change and it is distressing,” he explained.

Fr. Gawain has seen a recent increase in the number of people coming to St. Bart’s. Not stating specifically that they are unhappy with their own churches, Gawain said a large percentage of people wanting to be involved in the programs he offers come from the Catholic churches, and he welcomes them.

“We need to be more effective as advocates,” he said. “Food scarcity is a major problem, even in Westchester. We must have more of a voice, raise awareness and take action to another, higher level.”

Looking at the hunger issue and socio-economic disparity in the United States from a philosophical perspective, Gawain explains that: “We already have so much in the United States. The truly prosperous cannot comprehend scarcity. But if you look around, there are people who have everything, but they no longer want to play the role of the winner takes all.”

Gawain gives credit for the two hunger-alleviating programs at his church to Arthur Bonagura, who runs the Sunday Soup Kitchen at St. Bart’s and has been active in feeding programs in the region for over 20 years.

The Soup Kitchen feeds about 50 people every week. The food is prepared off-site by people who have volunteered their time and resources. It is heated up and served at the church. Anyone wanting to prepare a tray of chicken or pasta is welcome to call the church and offer help.

In addition to the Sunday meal, Gawain is looking to add a food pantry to the services offered to needy families.

The other food service operating out of St. Bart’s, using the same facilities, is The Lord’s Pantry, currently under the supervision of Phil McGovern, who picked up the responsibility when his mother Joan McGovern died three years ago.

Phil McGovern
Phil McGovern

McGovern moved The Lord’s Pantry to St. Bart’s two years ago, where he pays a modest and reduced rent.

The Lord’s Pantry serves homebound patients suffering from AIDs and HIV and their families. The program was started about 25 years ago by three mothers who had adult children suffering from AIDs. Their intention was to help “feed the body” while others tended to the health and spiritual needs of these patients who were too sick to care for themselves.

A fully cooked dinner, bag lunch for the next day and some breakfast food is delivered by volunteers four days a week. Anywhere from 60 to 75 people are served each week.

McGovern explained that he gets calls from Social Services hoping to add clients to his program who are not eligible for government services.

“We also lost major funding, when it was determined that our model of delivering fully prepared meals, rather than providing a pick-up point for people to travel to, was not what they wanted.” McGovern further explained that all the food purchasing and preparation is done by volunteers. “We go to the Food Bank and Pacha Mama Farms run by the Maryknoll Father and Brothers in Ossining,” he said. “Depending on what’s available, we prepare a meal. During the summer season, we can get from 250 to 300 pounds of produce.”

McGovern also mentioned that Patricia Lanza, the benefactor who had supported many local causes and died this month, would be missed because many times when the money was becoming very scare, she was always there with an unsolicited donation.

The Hunger Concert will take place at St. Bartholomew’s Church, 82 Prospect St., White Plains, Sunday, April 27 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Music from folk to jazz to Irish to rock, with Celtic dancing and sing-a-long will feature performances by Mark Douglas, Ricardo Gautreau, Fr. Gawain de Leeuw, Dennis Power and Vinnie McLaughlin, and The O’Rourke Irish Dancers. Tickets are $50 for a family, $35 adults, $30 seniors, and $15 students.

The money raised will purchase new kitchen equipment for use by both organizations.

Evidence shows there are no less than 80,000 different people in Westchester who are served by feeding organizations. The Food Bank believes that nearly 200,000 people are hungry or at the risk of hunger. Half seek emergency food often; the rest seek it sporadically. More than 14,000 different people seek food every week.

More information can be obtained by calling St. Bart’s at 914-949-5577.

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