St. Peter Parish 'blown away' by 5 tons of food donations as part of 'Mercy in Action' day

Students from St. Mary School in Mount Clemens sort through more than 10,800 pounds of food donations at St. Peter Parish in Mount Clemens on Oct. 28. The food items were donated to the parish's St. Vincent de Paul food pantry as part of “Mercy in Action Day of Service,” an annual archdiocese-wide volunteer blitz sponsored by Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan. (Photos by Naomi Vrazo | Special to Detroit Catholic)

49 parishes and schools support 37 projects in Metro Detroit, as more than 3,000 volunteer for Catholic Charities' service blitz

MOUNT CLEMENS — With boxes of food piled on top of one another, there was hardly room to walk inside the parish hall. 

Debbie Goff-Legghio and Brian Cloutier were hoping for a good turnout, and they got one: more than 10,800 pounds of food donated to St. Peter Parish’s St. Vincent de Paul chapter for the coming winter months.

“We’re in a state of shock, joy, and just unbelief in how much we have received over the weekend,” Goff-Liegghio told Detroit Catholic. “We’re a parish family who not only worships together, but we play together, work together, and when one of us is down, we all come around to lift that person up and get them on the straight and narrow.”

The massive food drive was part of Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan's fourth annual Mercy in Action Day of Service, an archdiocese-wide initiative that draws thousands of volunteers for community service projects across Metro Detroit. 

This year, more than 3,000 volunteers from 49 Catholic parishes and schools completed 37 projects at 16 different sites across Metro Detroit on Oct. 26. The projects ranged from cleaning abandoned city lots and organizing clothing donations to visiting senior living homes and restocking food pantries.

St. Mary School students unload a truckload of food donations to bring into St. Peter Parish's Father Welch Parish Hall on Oct. 28.

St. Peter Parish elected to support the parish's St. Vincent de Paul chapter, Goff-Liegghio said, as the winter months approach.

“The weekend prior, we distributed brown paper bags with a white sheet of paper that said what we were looking for: dry food, toilet paper, canned items and monetary donations for meat and eggs,” Goff-Liegghio said.

On Saturday, the donations came rolling into the Mount Clemens parish, filling up the parish social hall. Even more donations came in after each of the parish’s four weekend Masses, relegating the post-Mass coffee and doughnuts to a small corner of the Father Welch Parish Hall.

“We hit more than 10,000 pounds because of the St. Peter parishioners’ generosity and the whole community, really,” said Cloutier, president of the St. Vincent de Paul chapter at St. Peter’s. “Cardinal Mooney High School brought a busload of food and another grade school (Carkenord Elementary in Chesterfield Township, part of L’Anse Creuse Public Schools) brought food. Everyone chipped in, and on Saturday for two hours, we had a steady stream of people coming in bringing bags of food. We were so busy, the parking lot was backed up on Saturday; we were blown away.”

The parish's St. Vincent de Paul food pantry is open from 10 a.m. to noon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, staffed by 35 volunteers. Cloutier said the food pantry serves most of the Mount Clemens and greater Macomb County area.

A St. Mary's student loads boxes of food onto a conveyor belt to bring into the parish. The 10,800 pounds of food collected will stock St. Peter Parish's St. Vincent de Paul food pantry for the winter. 

Last year, the St. Vincent de Paul chapter served Thanksgiving Day meals to 180 families, a number the chapter should easily match this year because of its Mercy in Action Day donations.

“Within the first half hour, we were overwhelmed with the donations, and I was just crying. I couldn’t believe how gracious our parish family is,” Goff-Liegghio said. “Then we had this bus from Cardinal Mooney show up, filled to the brim with food. It was really powerful.”

Cloutier added the donations far surpassed what the chapter was expecting, calling it a “game changer” for how St. Vincent de Paul will operate at the parish this winter.

“We can serve more people now, probably give them more than what we normally give,” Cloutier said. “We can also share some food with neighboring chapters at St. Louis (in Clinton Township), St. Hubert (in Harrison Township), St. Thecla (in Clinton Township) and St. Ronald (in Clinton Township), because they could use support, too.”

Debbie Goff-Legghio, director of stewardship, left, and Pat Plotkowski, vice president of St. Vincent de Paul chapter at St. Peter Parish, helped organize the parish's food drive. St. Peter Parish was one of 49 parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit to participate in Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan's Mercy in Action Day of Service, which deployed more than 3,000 volunteers to 37 sites over the weekend.

“As for here, with all this food, we don’t have to buy as much food, so that frees up money to help pay peoples’ utility bills to keep their heat on, help with rent so they don’t get evicted, more money to buy Christmas gifts. This really helps us in the long run,” Cloutier said.

On Monday, eighth-grade students from the parish's St. Mary School went to work, organizing and packing away food in the parish pantry.

For two hours, the students looked like a highly disciplined assembly line, checking expiration dates, organizing piles and forming a supply line to two trucks in the parking lot to haul the intake to the parish rectory, where the food was then unloaded.

“At St. Mary’s, they teach us a lot about helping the community, because we’re given so much. This is the school showing us how to help,” eighth-grader Addysen Curtiss said. “I personally know families that don’t have a lot, so to know there are people out there who are going to get fed, it means a lot.

“It’s nice to get out of class and actually volunteer and give something,” Addysen added. “I’ve volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul before, and it’s nice to think you are helping a child, a mother in need. 

Some of the myriad food donations given to St. Peter Parish over the weekend are pictured in the parish hall. Parish leaders say they were moved to tears at the generosity of community and parish members.

“And I like the shirt, it’s very nice,” she said, referencing the “Mercy in Action Day” T-shirts provided to volunteers.

Eighth-grade teacher Kathy Falk said seventh- and eighth-graders at St. Mary School are required to complete 40 service hours over two years.

“We teach the seven corporal works of mercy and the seven spiritual works of mercy at school, looking for ways to make it part of our everyday lives,” Falk said. “So days like this, when they see all that goes into helping people, the collections, the organizing, the teamwork ... it’s a valuable lesson of ‘mercy in action.’”