Centerville parish leads community effort to distribute food boxes

Volunteers distribute Farmers to Families food boxes outside St. Mary Parish in Centerville on Oct. 22.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

CENTERVILLE — Nearly 50 volunteers of different faiths assembled in the parking lot of St. Mary Parish on Oct. 22 to distribute food boxes to those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s just the uncertainty and craziness of everything that’s going on right now. People are finding themselves hungry who weren’t hungry before,” said Father Timothy Armbruster, C.PP.S., pastor of St. Mary Parish. “People just jumped in and helped. We had some of the regular faithful show up but also had some new faces from our parish and the community.”

Father Armbruster said the parish received a call the week of Oct. 11 from the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program. According to the program’s website, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) partners with national, regional and local distributors whose workforces have been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels and other food services businesses, to purchase up to $4 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat products from American producers. Distributors package these products into family-sized boxes and transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits.


Knowing that Appanoose County is above the state average for poverty and unemployment (, Father Arm­bruster decided to accept the offer for St. Mary Parish to be a distribution site. Doing so meant supplying a volunteer force to distribute the boxes, so he called other churches in the community, made posts on social media and made announcements at Mass about the need for volunteers. “They were happy to come and help. They said, ‘Just tell us what to do and we’ll do it.’” The parish also reached out to local food pantries and persons who work with vulnerable populations.

St. Mary set the distribution date for Oct. 21 and began to get word out. However, paperwork issues on behalf of the distributor resulted in some frustrating, last-minute changes. Father Arm­bruster wasn’t sure how many boxes would arrive, if any. Ultimately, the parish received 1,680 boxes of food a day later than scheduled.

Despite the setbacks, the parish had plenty of volunteers to help when the boxes were distributed. The parish parking lot has two entrances, so volunteers —including a few police officers who are parishioners — set up a one-way system to allow cars to come through in a line. Some recipients were single parents; others were families with school-aged children who, due to a hybrid-learning schedule, have not been able to receive daily meals at school. Some recipients picked up boxes for neighbors who are elderly and/or homebound. The boxes were distributed on a first-come, first-served basis until all supplies were claimed. The process took about six hours.

“The people who drove through were very appreciative,” Father Armbruster said, noting that almost every recipient left with a smile. “It was the whole community coming together to receive the gift.”

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