Archbishop kicks off Lent by serving at Detroit food pantry

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron blesses a newborn infant and his mother at All Saints Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry in southwest Detroit on Feb. 13. The archbishop visited the food pantry to volunteer and talk to clients and volunteers as Lent gets under way. (Photos by Mike Stechschulte | The Michigan Catholic)
DETROIT — Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron kicked off the holy season of Lent a day early on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 13, by helping bag groceries and talking with patrons and volunteers at All Saints Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry in Detroit.

The archbishop also shared paczki with the food pantry’s patrons, stopping to chat and greet clients and share a laugh or two.

“This is a way for me to begin my Lent,” Archbishop Vigneron told The Michigan Catholic. “Lent is about doing works of love for other people; it’s about praying so we grow more in love with Christ, and we pray for those we love. It’s also about actually giving some sacrifices so we have more to give away.”

After bagging her groceries, Erika Eldora Mathis returned to shake the archbishop’s hand, saying it was a blessing to have the chief shepherd visit the southwest Detroit food pantry.

“This is my first time meeting him. He’s a nice person,” said Mathis, who is a regular at the food pantry and soup kitchen. “It’s really great to have the archbishop here today for Fat Tuesday. Everybody seemed to enjoy their paczki and coffee.”

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron helps a woman bag groceries at the All Saints Food Pantry in Detroit on Jan. 13.

Archbishop Vigneron also spoke with local media about The Michigan Catholic’s #LiveYourBestLent social media campaign, which encourages Catholics to get creative with their Lenten sacrifices by sharing their journey online.

The archbishop said it gives him joy to visit with clients and volunteers, and encouraged others to find creative ways to show love.

“I really enjoy this. It’s really energizing to me,” Archbishop Vigneron said.

The archbishop added that he admires the volunteers who “are quite faithful” in giving their time to works of mercy each week.

“If I can be a bit of an encouragement to them, I’m happy to do that,” he added.

Volunteer John Debien, who has been helping stock food at All Saints for three years, said the soup kitchen and food pantry serve a vital need in the community.

“You hope someday it’s not going to be needed,” said Debien, who attends Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth. “Someday, you hope you come here and nobody shows up.”

All Saints Soup Kitchen serves approximately 100-140 guests three days a week, while the food pantry serves 30-50 families twice weekly, said Dave Bartek, CEO of Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, which operates the ministry.

The soup kitchen and food pantry are currently housed in the lower level of the former All Saints Church, 7824 W. Fort St., which was closed in January following a merger with nearby St. Gabriel Parish.

Despite the church closure, Bartek said Catholic Charities has been seeking a new home for the ministry for about a year, partly because of neighborhood accessibility issues.

All Saints sits near the future construction site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge and is bounded by Interstate 75 to the north, factors that have contributed to a decline in patrons in recent years.

“We know that the clients want more accessibility, and it’s a bit of a difficult location to get to,” Bartek said. “We think by relocation, we’ll expand our reach as well.”

Bartek said Catholic Charities has been working with the Southwest Detroit Business Association to try to identify possible properties along the Vernor corridor just north of the freeway, but that discussions are in early stages.

In addition to a new home for the soup kitchen and food pantry, Bartek said the new location could also form the start of a “community hub” for Catholic Charities’ other ministries in southwest Detroit. Some of those services could include mental and behavioral health counseling, as well as Project Hope, a pro-life ministry that serves expectant mothers, Bartek said.

“We do a lot of educational, family-based outreach out of our Pontiac center, and we want to bring that to southwest Detroit as well,” Bartek said. “Aside from the soup kitchen and food pantry, we’ve not had much of our ministries here, so we’re going to use this opportunity to address that.”

As far as the soup kitchen, Bartek said it’s imperative not only to remain in the community, but to find ways to reach out beyond its current operations.

“We know from the people we serve every day that this is very much a needed ministry, and we want to keep it here.”