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By Tom Spalding, Communications Coordinator

As the new director of the Boulevard Place Food Pantry, one of Matt Hayes’ goals is to streamline the great efforts of the five Catholic parishes that help fill our shelves and refrigerators.

Parishioners of Christ The King, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Luke, St. Joan of Arc and Immaculate Heart of Mary regularly donate thousands of pounds worth of nutritious staple food items. Since this is a volunteer effort, Hayes believes it would be helpful to have more focused food drives to create predictability.

“We’re appreciative of every single item we receive whether it’s a jar of peanut butter or a can of green beans,” he says. “But Christ the King has a model that I want to adopt. They focus on one item each month and that gives guidance to others who want to give. Our system will be to work with the five parishes to try to come up with something that we need, in dialogue with us. They’ll say to their community, ‘Bring anything, but also especially bring diapers or breakfast cereal or whatever we designate that is in high demand but short supply.”

“The idea is to tap into the generosity of the parishioners, keeping us top of mind all the time,” he shares.

More than 60 percent of the total weight of food given out to clients is the result of donations—which come thanks to individuals who might grab an extra item for the needy while out shopping at their favorite grocery store or give to us from their kitchen inventory. That giving is sometimes random!

This focused-food-drive goal is one that Hayes is bullish about as he embarks on his first month taking over the reins from Cynthia L. Brown, who retired from the Pantry at the end of March following seven years as director/co-director.

He will be sharing the ideas as he schedules short speeches at churches and other local faith organizations interested in his perspective. He’s often heard quoting a favorite line by Paul Farmer, when asked for a response to poverty: “If I am hungry, that is a material problem; if someone else is hungry, that is a spiritual problem.”

Hayes elaborates: “Action on behalf of the Gospel comes from the spirituality that each of us holds. Our real scripture here is Matthew 25:35, ‘For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink.’ What I want to do is say to people, ‘Your faith has to move into action.’ And the Pantry is one of the ways that it can do it. Even though the client who comes in here doesn’t know that … that’s the basis on which all of this sits and that’s goes back to St. Vincent de Paul.”

Hayes also plans to become more actively engaged with each of the representatives of the five churches who sit on the Pantry board, as he wants to strengthen the parish alliance from all angles. He says they do a great job and wants to make their impact even greater.

He’s also hoping to designate a special new role for a gifted volunteer who is interested in becoming the Pantry’s “parish connector.” That person will work with the Boulevard Place Food Pantry staff to identify needs and then they’ll work with the Pantry board members to say to the parishes and the St. Vincent de Paul conferences, ‘Here’s what we need’. So, we get all of this more aligned. I’ve had a saying for years that 1+1=3; it’s a metaphor about the power of collaboration exceeding what in reality is a simple mathematical formula. If we can really start really working together directly and indirectly in ways that we haven’t been doing, so much more is going to happen.”