Volunteer Pilar O’Malley fills boxes to be given away to the needy who come by the Monastery of the Holy Spirit’s Food Bank. (Staff Photos: Karen Rohr)
On a recent Tuesday morning, over a dozen cars wait in the parking lot of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit’s Food Bank.
The people sitting in the cars had already stopped inside the modest-sized building where the food is stored and completed their paperwork to receive the free boxes and bags of provisions. Now, they wait for their number to be called by a volunteer, allowing them to pull up to a table near the building where the food is loaded into the trunks of their cars.
Senior citizens, middle-aged people, mothers with children, all come to take advantage of the Monastery’s food bank. Last month, the food bank distributed 16,000 pounds of food to 259 families, equating to 900 people fed, said food bank coordinator and volunteer Mary Smith.
“Oh my good goodness,” said Smith when asked about the need for the food bank. “It’s grown exponentially.”
When the food bank first opened in 2010, it served about 20 families a week. Now it’s more like 50 to 70 a week, she said.
While the food bank does receive donations from retail outlets such as Publix, Target and BJs, the program also relies on the Atlanta Food Bank, which sells food to the Monastery Food Bank.
To provide funds to purchase food, the monks have organized the annual Monastery 5K-Fun Run/Walk, and this year the race is set for 8:30 a.m., Saturday, June 7. The monks invite all those runners, walkers and future runners to sign up soon for event, which costs $25 per runner for the 5K and $15 per person for the 1.5 mile Fun Run/Walk. Check-in for the race is between 6:30 and 8 a.m. and for those interested there is a Community Mass at the monastery from 7 to 8 a.m.
Unlike other races which take place on asphalt, this one is mostly on a dirt trail, said Brother Callistus Crichlow.
“It’s a very scenic route. It goes around two lakes, a large hay field, it goes through dense wooded land, which is shaded. It goes around our large organic garden, so it’s grassy plains. This is the type of terrain a lot of runners prefer to run on as opposed to a hard track,” said Crichlow.
A couple of inclines make the run more interesting, said Crichlow, and one in particular has gained the nickname “Repentance Hill.”
“Right above the hill there’s a water station, of course. We figure they need it when they get up there,” he said.
The Monastery 5K grows every year and in 2013 attracted over 800 participants. The event generates about $8,000 for the food bank, said Crichlow.
The race attracts individual runners, as well as families with young children, who take advantage of the fun run. Children 10 and younger may participate in the fun run for free, but will not receive a T-shirt, said Crichlow, and he encouraged everyone to sign up early so that there will be enough T-shirts to go around for the adults.
Meanwhile, the food bank volunteers said in addition to hoping that the community comes out and supports the race, they also encourage them to provide the food bank with donations, and they’ll take any extra garden vegetables the community might have this summer.
The hungry who visit the food bank can do so every three months, said Smith, and the volunteers try to give recipients staples and items that will make full meals. Pinto beans, pasta, sauce, vegetables, fruits, bread, baking mix, cereal, yogurt, tuna, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, rice, beef stew, pastries, meat and dairy, are just a few of the items provided to the hungry in cardboard boxes and plastic shopping bags.
The food bank will serve anyone within a 32-county area, but most of the recipients come from Newton, Rockdale, DeKalb and Clayton, with Newton being the neediest.
Callistus said that because there are so few monks at the monastery now, the monks themselves cannot provide time to the food bank, so it is run by a team of 10 volunteers from the community.
The dedicated volunteers are happy to keep the resource in operation.
“If you are blessed, you’ve got to give back,” said volunteer Mary Ewert.
To register for the Monstery 5K-Fun Run/Walk to benefit the food bank, visit www.trappist.net or visit the Monastery of the Holy Spirit Visitor’s Center, 2625 Highway 212 in Rockdale County.