By Jessica Easthope
Anyone who visits St. John’s Bread & Life can tell it’s a well-oiled machine. It feeds 25,000 people every year and sustains 21 other food pantries. But what you can’t tell by just looking – is the machine is powered by nuns.
“When you belong to a religious community if you put the word out that you need help, people show up,” said Sister Caroline Tweedy, the executive director of St. John’s Bread & Life.
The organization that’s been a Brooklyn staple has been around since 1982 and has an upper management staff made up of mostly women.
“We get to share who we are, we look at a problem collectively and we get to address it collectively and we bring a woman’s intuition to what we do,” Sr. Caroline said.
Sister Caroline and associate executive director Sister Marie Sorenson take a hands on approach to ending hunger, something they say comes naturally for sisters.
“I think that’s one of the highlights of women religious, we jump in and we do the work that needs to be done,” Sister Marie said.
It’s Catholic Sisters Week – and St. John’s Bread & Life asked communities of sisters to help support its mission. In just days enough money was raised to feed the people who rely on the pantry for three months, and they’re not stopping there, some have even joined the volunteer staff. Sister Melissa Camardo blends in.
“It’s run by so many talented, committed, passionate women and it’s a really great example to all of us to get involved and use the skills we have to the best of our ability,” said Sister Melissa.
Sister Melissa isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, because, after all, ending hunger in a borough where 20 percent of its residents are food insecure is heavy lifting.
“What I can do right now to make a difference is simple small acts of bagging groceries with great love and to really pray for the people who need food and use my own hands and heart to respond to that,” she said.
The sisters say what puts St. John’s Bread & Life a cut above the rest is its powerful women and their ability to work together.
“Women know things can’t get done alone, that the power is in working together, achieving a goal, sharing resources, sharing talents,” Sr. Marie said.
During the most challenging of times, the machine doesn’t stop because these sisters won’t let it – it’s all part of their power.
Proud to call you my sisters. Grateful for your commitment and organization and energy and prayer to make a real difference.
We can thank Sister Mary Bernadette Symczak, Daughter of Charity who ran the soup kitchen at 75 Lewis Avenue for many years with a handful of volunteers – and despite limited resources, never turned anyone away. When Bernie died, her “boys” painted a mural at the Myrtle Avenue subway stop, “Our Mother”. She was our very own saint!