RAHWAY, NJ—For the past 11 years, the Divine Mercy Kitchen and Pantry, part of Divine Mercy Parish in Rahway (the result of the merger of Rahway’s St. Mary’s and St. Mark’s Roman Catholic Churches), has never missed a Sunday serving food to the hungry and those in need. Through snow storms and hurricanes, never mind the current pandemic crisis and all the challenges associated with it, Jeanne O’Connor and Joanne Reinhart, both parishioners at Divine Mercy, have always ensured the doors were open and the shelves steadily full as their hungry neighbors, who average between 20-40 people every Sunday, form their weekly line outside the church promptly at noon.
This Sunday, February 21, they were assisted by fellow parishioner Barry Sadlon, a regular volunteer tasked with handing out the individually packaged meals, and also Sandy Yelenovsky, a parishioner at Rahway’s other Catholic church, St. Thomas the Apostle Byzantine Catholic Church. Yelenovsky serves as St. Thomas’s unofficial representative for donations to Divine Mercy.
Yelenovsky was there that day specifically because St. Thomas had just concluded its own food drive, what it was calling a “foodless food drive.” In light of the pandemic and ongoing safety precautions and concerns, the church chose to accept only monetary donations from its parishioners. After raising over $1,200, Yelenovosky and other volunteers used the money to purchase the food themselves. They made 50 ham and cheese sandwiches, packaging them all in brown bags with other snacks and sides. Yelenovosky dropped them off to Divine Mercy a few minutes before noon, just in time for the pantry to give them out to the quickly growing crowd.
How has Divine Mercy Kitchen and Pantry managed to continue operating so consistently for so long? “For one thing, our parishioners at Divine Mercy are very generous,” Sadlon mentioned, noting that the only source of monetary support used to purchase food—which averages about $100 each Sunday—comes from donations. The volunteers were quick to point out, as well, that thus far they have never run out or sent anyone away empty-handed.
“We do this,” O’Connor said, “because we’re a pantry whose mission is to feed the hungry. And people are always hungry, especially right now in the middle of this pandemic.”
Reinhart echoed the sentiment and also noted the support and assistance of others. She said, turning to Yelenovsky, “St. Thomas keeps us going.”
All agreed too about the importance of having the support of church leadership in their respective parishes for this charitable work. Mentioned in particular were Reverend Alexander Cruz, of Divine Mercy, and Reverend James Hayer, of St. Thomas.
It appears that in the midst of a pandemic or not, Divine Mercy Kitchen and Pantry, along with some help from friends and neighbors, will keep up the generous giving and, if the pattern holds, continue this work for many years to come.