As I was listening to Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper give a weekly update on coronavirus statistics, she commended the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network for the safe manner in which it is conducting the Little Italy Farmers Market. It made me wonder how the pandemic is affecting how the SSJNN staff is helping the families that depend on them.
I reached out to Gretchen Durney, SSJNN westside director, and I was amazed to learn about how they have adapted and what they are doing each day, without the help of their wonderful volunteers. (The SSJNN staff has gained a new appreciation for the volunteers who are greatly missed at this time.)
Since activities and programs can’t be held inside, the staff has set up shop outside. They continue to provide meals each Monday, on a carry-out basis only, from the soup kitchen at St. Paul’s. In addition, they provide emergency food packages and personal hygiene items to those in need. The youth program director also puts together care packages and birthday packages which include fun activities for the neighborhood kids to do at home. Many of the items in the packages have been donated.
Both the eastside and westside gardens are thriving thanks to a small group of teens who have been hired to tend them. The teens also help at the Little Italy Farmers Market each week which is doing well since opening in June. Approximately 1000 customers have patronized the market so far this summer.
The neighborhood facade improvement project continues as does the east side bicycle repair program. Volunteers take the bikes home to repair them and return them for distribution.
Gretchen said that our prayers, donations, and support have been greatly appreciated.
The entire SSJ community is grateful to the SSJNN staff including Gretchen Durney, Lora Caldwell, Darla Foradora, Heather Caspar, Sister Phyllis Hilbert, Joanne Sprickman, Cathy McGinnis, Margarita Dangle and Colleen Burbules who continue reaching out to the dear neighbor without distinction, even during these trying times. This makes the SSJ Mission Possible.