Sister Florence Norton volunteers at the Providence Food Pantry.

Sister Florence Norton volunteers at the Providence Food Pantry in West Terre Haute, Indiana.

It’s a Thursday in February. Heather Ray patiently waits as she gets closer and closer to the front of the line.

A steady stream of people stand in front of her. More are waiting behind as people keep checking in.

After checking in, they continue to move forward in the line. Only this time they are placing food items in carts.

For several weeks, Heather — an employee of Terre Haute-based Nurse Care — says she has been coming to Providence Food Pantry every Thursday to pick up food for residents of Maryvale Apartments, located at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.

Heather has come to the pantry three times in a row for one individual who is unable to come to the pantry.

She said without the pantry, this individual would not have enough food to live on.

“(My client) depends on this. The people (in the immediate area) would be in desperate need if Providence Food Pantry wasn’t here. A lot of people depend on it,” Heather said.

Meeting a need

Providence Food Pantry is a ministry of the Sisters of Providence. For two-and-a-half hours every Thursday, the pantry opens its doors to residents in need in the West Terre Haute area.

Sister Joseph Fillenwarth volunteer at the Providence Food Pantry.

Sister Joseph Fillenwarth, director of Providence Food Pantry in West Terre Haute, Indiana, speaks with a  volunteer at the pantry.

The pantry was officially founded 22 years ago by Sister Brendan Harvey (RIP). For the past 10 years, Sister Joseph Fillenwarth has ministered as the pantry director.

“This is our ministry,” Sister Joseph said. “Any day we open our doors, it’s a call to mercy.”

When Sister Joseph uses the word “ours,” she’s not just referring to the Sisters of Providence. The pantry also receives assistance from many area churches and other organizations, including The Helping Hands, First Assembly of God Church, Bethany United Church of Christ, Bethesda United Methodist Church, Christ United Methodist Church, First United Methodist Church, Smith Park United Methodist Church, St. Mark’s United Church of Christ, St. Mary’s Village Parish, Emmanuel United Methodist Church, The West Terre Haute IGA and others.

According to Sister Joseph, the pantry also receives assistance from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The pantry was originally located in the basement of St. Leonard’s Catholic Church in West Terre Haute. The church was closed a handful of years ago, but Providence came calling as West Terre Haute residents Keith and Jamie Richey, owners of Accurate Insulation, offered a building they owned.

The Richeys do not charge rent for the building. In 2015 they were named recipients of the Sisters of Providence first Saint Mother Theodore Companions Award.

Lots of hands

Inside the pantry, clients are treated to food stacked at more than 10 stations. Foods offered include soups, cookies, milk, butter, vegetables, meats, cereals, pastas and more.

More than 30 volunteers, including Sisters of Providence, local community members and students from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and Indiana State University, assist the clients. There are volunteers at every station.

Sister Mary Lois Hennel volunteer at the Providence Food Pantry.

Sister Mary Lois Hennel volunteers at the Providence Food Pantry.

Carts are set up near the front door for the clients to carry their food.

When they are finished, more volunteers help the clients by taking the food to their vehicles.

“Our clients always speak words of gratitude,” Sister Joseph said. “That’s really a very uplifting feeling. This is unconditional love. That’s mercy. We see Christ in these people. We try to help in any way we can.”

Sister Joseph, a Sister of Providence for 62 years, ministered in missionary work prior to becoming director of Providence Food Pantry.

“I think this is a continuation of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin’s work,” Sister Joseph said. “We’re helping our neighbors. It’s very rewarding.

“I think our supporters … they’ve made this a community pantry. This shows that Providence – the Providence of God – is working.”

(Originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of HOPE magazine.)