The Pantry of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland which has been providing help and hope to families and individuals in that community since 1992, has issued an emergency appeal for food donations, due to shortages caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

In a YouTube message, Chuck Smith, the food pantry’s coordinator for the past two decades, said, “For the first time in those 20 years, I have to make an emergency appeal for your help to donate food, so we can keep our pantry open for our neighbors who need us.”

Smith noted that shortages of donated food at the pantry happen at this time of year, but for the past decade, the program has been able to depend on the Archdiocese of Washington’s Lenten food campaign to restock its shelves.

“This year, for obvious reasons, that drive has been postponed,” Smith said, referencing the fact that since March 14, public Masses have not been held at churches in the Archdiocese of Washington due to precautions recommended by government officials to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, during a time when parishioners would bring in bags of donated food for the Lenten drive.

Smith explained that panic buying of groceries has caused stores not to permit bulk purchases at this time, preventing the pantry from its backup system of using cash donations from parishes to buy bulk supplies to stock the pantry. 

In the YouTube message, the pantry’s director then issued a personal appeal.

“So I have to turn to you. Any amount of food you can give us will help us stay open and help those who need it. Can you drop off canned soup, canned vegetables, canned tuna, pasta sauce, canned fruit, pasta, canned chili, canned pasta, or stew or cereal?” Smith asked, adding that needed items are listed on the St. Martin's website

The Pantry at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland, has been a beacon of hope to community families and individuals since 1992. (CS file photo from 2015/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Smith noted one bright spot. Before Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington were closed on March 16 due to the coronavirus precautions, students at the neighboring St. Martin of Tours School had already collected two weeks worth of ramen dry soup noodles for the pantry.

The pantry’s coordinator said people can drop off donations there during its normal hours, on Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., on Sundays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and on Mondays, from 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. He recommended that people avoid dropping off donations of food from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. Mondays, because that’s when they expect to have the largest number of clients around the pantry. 

This past week, St. Martin's Pantry provided food to 226 family members or individuals, and Smith expects that number to go up next Monday.

In the YouTube appeal, he said, “Please help us help them. May the good Lord reward you for whatever help you can provide.” 

Chuck Smith, the longtime coordinator of the Pantry at St. Martin's Parish, issued an emergency appeal on YouTube to help restock its shelves for people in need. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

The pantry is located right behind St. Martin of Tours Church, which is at 201 S. Frederick Avenue in Gaithersburg.

Father David Wells, the pastor of St. Martin of Tours Parish, said, “It’s been humbling to to see the immediate response of people to the increased need we have for donations to the pantry.  It’s in difficult moments such as these that we see the tremendous generosity from parishes, Catholic organizations, and individuals.”

St. Martin of Tours, one of the largest and most diverse parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington, was founded in 1920 and is marking its 100th anniversary this year. Now its Masses are being live streamed, but when Masses eventually resume at the church, they will be celebrated in English, Spanish and French on weekends. The parish’s patron saint, St. Martin of Tours, was a soldier who cut his cloak in half to give to a poor person, and that night he had a vision where the beggar revealed himself to be Jesus. In addition to the food pantry, St. Martin’s holds a coat drive for the poor each fall to honor the legacy of the parish’s patron saint.

The Pantry is located right behind St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Gaithersburg and is right across the parking lot from St. Martin's School. (CS photo/Mark Zimmermann)