By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Our Lady of Victory Parish is mobilizing against hunger in partnership with River Bend Foodbank.
The impetus for this effort began about a year ago when parishioner Shawn Atwater volunteered at a River Bend Foodbank mobile food pantry at his workplace. Atwater works as a quality engineer supervisor with John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline, Ill.
“It was such a humbling experience pushing a grocery cart full of food and loading it into people’s cars.” Through the mobile food pantry experience, “I was humbled to learn how much need we have in the community,” said Atwater, a husband and father of three children.
One in five children and one in eight people (children and adults) in the 23-county Quad-City region are missing meals, according to River Bend Foodbank, based in Davenport. The agency is working to close the meal gap in a variety of ways, including mobile food pantry partnerships.
Inspired by his experience, Atwater decided as director of the men’s Christian Experience Weekend (CEW) at his parish to invite his leadership team to participate in a mobile pantry at Wood Intermediate School in Davenport. He thought it would be a great team-building exercise.
The CEW team volunteered on one of the coldest days of the year, in January 2019, when the thermometer sank to -25 degrees F. “I was in full-blown hunting coveralls,” Atwater said. “It was still so much fun.” He said it touched him to see people coming out to get groceries, some with inadequate clothing for the weather. One little boy, who was probably 3 or 4 years old pointed to his grandmother’s car to load groceries “because mom’s car doesn’t have heat.”
Our Lady of Victory Parish hosted mobile food pantry events in May and in August in the parish’s parking lot. Atwater received the blessings of the pastor, Father Jake Greiner, to organize the two events. He also worked with the parish’s school, John F. Kennedy, to make sure that the mobile food pantry wouldn’t cause any logistics challenges. “When the need is there, the parish comes out and supports those who need it,” Atwater said.
Each of Our Lady of Victory’s mobile food pantry events drew about 40 volunteers and 70 families who received groceries. “The fire has been lit to bring the mobile food pantry to Our Lady of Victory.” The mobile food pantries were so successful that River Bend Foodbank Executive Director Michael Miller designated Our Lady of Victory to host the Student Hunger Drive mobile meal food pantry on Oct. 26.
“We really appreciate the parish and the opportunity to partner with them for the Student Hunger Drive. We particularly appreciate their openness to allowing students to participate in this experience,” Miller said. It’s not just about the food collected, but the experience of meeting people who are hungry, and dispelling stereotypes.
The mobile food pantry has become “a big part of what we do now, and it’s only because of community support,” Miller said. “There is no more beautiful picture of our community helping each other than the mobile food pantry.”
The number of mobile food pantry partnerships has grown from one or two a month in 2015 to as many as 15 a month today, Miller said. Partners must have an adequate number of volunteers (40 to 50) and ample space to handle the crowd and a truck loaded with 10,000 meals.
During the mobile food pantry at Our Lady of Victory in August, a man from a neighboring apartment complex picked up groceries for a woman who was at work. Atwater said the man expressed profound gratitude, saying: “Do you realize how many kids you are feeding? … You guys are angels.”
“We’re not the angels; we’re just the shepherds,” Atwater said. “It takes a community to come together. What started out as an idea has turned into a ministry. It’s not me doing the work. It’s the Holy Spirit. We’re just the vessel. You have an idea and the Holy Spirit takes care of the rest of it.”