PORT ST. LUCIE | In 2012, the San Damiano Disciples for Men at St. Lucie Parish cooked up an idea to help people in need. The original plan was to pool their money every month and buy rice and beans for families living in rural areas near Lake Okeechobee.
After seeing the amount of food they gathered didn’t meet the huge need, the program evolved to include everyone in the parish willing to donate money and/or rice and beans. That’s when things really came to a boil.
For eight to nine years, the men’s group has directed the collection every other month, renting a truck and parking it outside the church and social hall so generous members can drop off their donations before and after weekend Masses. Then on Mondays, some of the men drive the truck and deliver the rice and beans to Indiantown and Pahokee.
“This idea proved to be the answer for feeding the people for a longer period of time,” said Larry Williams, a San Damiano member and one of the founders of the donation program. “We take over 5,000 pounds out to the food banks every other month with over 30,000 pounds per year (15 tons). Totally, we have taken over 200,000 pounds (100 tons) since we started this program.”
On May 22, the most recent rice and beans donation weekend, parishioners were seen carrying bags of rice and beans to the truck. Some prefer to give cash and others just forgot to bring the bags of rice and beans they had purchased. Either way, they know there is a great need and their money is going to be well spent.
“You can see the joy in giving. It’s very moving,” said Steve MacDonald, one of the three chairmen of the rice and beans program, along with Tim Beddome and Jimmy Moore.
One of the volunteers, Dave Walline, said the rental truck is picked up Saturday, “then we have all day today (Sunday), then tomorrow we use it to deliver and get it back, and then the gas and all that. The financial donations pay for that, and with any extra we buy more beans and rice.”
In the parish bulletin and with signs outside the church, parishioners and others in the community who want to donate are alerted to drop off their rice and beans. The success of the program is a testament to the generosity of its local people.
“There’s a man who comes in here with a van. He pulls up and he’s got 250-300 pounds of beans and rice. Every time he just donates it. It’s incredible,” Walline said.
MacDonald said there also is a mystery donor who leaves large stacks of rice and beans near the church door that they collect Monday mornings. He especially likes to see children get involved, cheerfully lugging bags of food to give to the men in the truck. Walline added that some families want their children to experience the donation program, so they follow the truck and help unload it at the two donation sites to see the fruits of their labor.
“You can tell there’s a huge need for the food. They’re so appreciative” in Indiantown and Pahokee, he said.
“They had storerooms there,” MacDonald said. “When we get there, we fill them up. Then when we go back, they’re empty. It’s a never-ending process.”
Conventual Franciscan Father Mark Szanyi, St. Lucie’s pastor, said the donation program is wonderful and it doesn’t cost the parish a dime.
Besides the rice and beans program, St. Lucie members also support a soup kitchen, a bread ministry, and a St. Vincent de Paul Society group. Walline explained that the bread ministry involves picking up baked goods from Publix for distribution to about 22 food banks and soup kitchens.
Williams said he is eager to talk with other parishes that might be interested in replicating the rice and beans collection.
“By having our parishioners donate what they could, it has proven to be a huge success, not only for the needy but for the parishioners, as they now have a true sense of almsgiving,” he said.
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