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By Carolyn Hite

hishandsHis Hands Food Pantry Ministry of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Upland has a 36-year tradition of serving those in need in the West Valley. It is operated by an all-volunteer group and one parish staff member.

Although no one is turned away, His Hands has a set menu of nonperishable food items provided to clients and families. The amount of food provided is based on the size of the family as well as on dietary restrictions. We ask each individual if they or anyone in their family has allergies, specific religious dietary restrictions, or cultural preferences. We also attempt to shop for healthier options for our senior clients who have dietary restrictions for medical reasons.

Each client receives a 3-4-day supply of food from the food pantry every two weeks. We have a special menu for our clients who are homeless and have no access to any cooking facilities, we also provide the homeless community with hygiene kits, blankets, undergarments, and socks.

At the beginning of the pandemic when all stores were being cleared by panicked shoppers, we were afraid of not having enough resources to stay open and assist our community. Fortunately, through the use of social media and word of mouth, a large amount of donations is brought in by our generous community daily. Every time a donor drops off supplies, they ask what else we need and return with those items within the next week. Our parish ministry of the Knights of Columbus has been one of our greatest supporters throughout the entire pandemic as they come in with numerous cases of food such as cereals, cup noodles, macaroni and cheese, and canned fruit weekly.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the average number of individuals served within a 60-day time period was 732. Within the same time period, we have served 1,033 individuals since the time of closures began- typically marked as the weekend of March 13. Our numbers of families have also increased from 85-110 families weekly to 135 families weekly.

The His Hands ministry has also begun providing our community with the protective face masks which are now mandatory to wear out in public. Our volunteers have been working tirelessly, sewing as many masks as they can in order for us to provide them to our community. The family of our Pastor, Father Timothy Do, has donated over 200 homemade masks to the His Hands Ministry and our other volunteers bring in about 100 masks weekly. In total, our volunteers have made about 500 masks of all sizes, patterns, and materials for our community.

We are currently packaging 1,500 masks made by the Lovers of the Holy Cross, Vietnamese religious women in Orange County, to give to our parishioners as a welcoming gift once the churches are reopened. Each family will receive two masks, totaling 1,000 bags of masks which our volunteers are packaging.

Throughout this pandemic, we have had to greatly minimize our number of volunteers as most of our help is over the age of 65. The His Hands ministry has gone from a team of six down to a team of three, occasionally four people. We have made this decision to keep our older volunteers healthy as well as to follow all social distancing guidelines placed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, the His Hands ministry was able to provide Easter Baskets for the children in our community. The baskets were put together by volunteers solely using items that were received as donations. We received a total of 125 baskets from the Nick Ripoly Foundation, Raising Canes restaurant donated 200 kid’s meal coupons. We distributed 200 Easter Baskets for the children on April 4, all of which were gone within the span of 20 minutes. That morning, cars had been lined up outside in our parking lot and down the street, anxiously awaiting the baskets full of candies, books, and toys for the children.

Carolyn Hite is the Director His Hands Ministry and Parish Life at St. Joseph Parish in Upland.