Fr. Jeff Scheeler and and John Grden

Jeff Scheeler, pastor of Church of the Transfiguration, and John Grden, executive director of the Franciscan Outreach Program

An aerial shot of people working

An aerial shot of the Outreach Program in action

At just after 8 a.m. on a chilly fall morning, friars and volunteers were already hard at work organizing and packing up food for the clients who would soon be arriving for the Franciscan Outreach Program’s twice weekly distribution. Located at Church of the Transfiguration in Southfield, Mich., it’s one of the largest and longest running food assistance programs in the area, tracing its roots to Duns Scotus Seminary, where food and clothing were distributed and occasional assistance with rent and utility payments was offered.

“The Franciscan spirit of concern for the poor and marginalized lives on in our Outreach Program,” said Jeff Scheeler, pastor. “Transfiguration is honored to keep going the legacy begun so long ago at Duns Scotus. This spirit of outreach and service to all those in need is very much part of our sense of being a parish, and helps to keep us open to the many needs of the world.”

A hand ringing the doorbell of Franciscan Outreach

The entrance to Franciscan Outreach

While some food pantries require that recipients come from a specific geographic area, clients of Franciscan Outreach hail from throughout Metro Detroit. “We don’t have any borders,” said John Grden, executive director. “Our goal is to help as many people as possible.”

That means distributing food to between 500 and 600 families each month, John said, with the numbers spiking around the holiday season. Rent and utility assistance was eliminated in 2007 so the outreach ministry could focus its resources on food aid. Clients receive a 40-pound bag of canned goods, concentrating on high protein items, such as tuna and peanut butter. Also included are a 10-pound bag of frozen meat, along with bread products. The Outreach Program receives donations from groups and individuals, in addition to partnering with local organizations and retailers, enabling the program to use every dollar wisely.

“People seem very happy and grateful that we’re here,” John said. “They are really struggling, now more than ever, it seems. We’ve been seeing a lot of seniors, people in their 70s and 80s, who all of the sudden have their kids and grandkids moving in with them to save some money.”

“It’s hard work, but I leave here feeling like we’ve accomplished something good, that we’ve used the blessings the Lord has given us and answered His call to give something back,” he added.

Friars pushes a cart full of dry goods

Br. Phil Wilhelm, OFM

“The Franciscan tradition of serving others and the presence of the friars is a blessing for everyone involved with the Outreach Program. “They inspire all of us and the clients looks forward to seeing them. They ask for the friars,” John said. “Sometimes people worry if we start to run low on something, but the friars remind us that the Lord provides, and all of the sudden we’ll get what we need.”

“I love serving the people and helping those who need our help the most,” said Phil Wilhelm. “There’s such a joy for me in doing this. As a brother, I’ve always been a helper.”

Friar pushes a cart of canned goods

Br. Ed Gura, OFM

Ed Gura, who has been ministering at the food pantry since 2013, has found his work to be filled with blessings. “One of the greatest for me has been in seeing the dedication, commitment and enthusiasm among our volunteers who come together to help make a difference in the lives of those in need,” he said. “Then there are our guests who come to us from all walks of life with their needs, hardships, sufferings and faith. They are whom God chooses to send our way. Their joyful spirits and thankful hearts for what they have received from us through the hands of God adds to the blessings of the day.”

There are also blessings to be found among the many people who are indirectly involved with the ongoing ministry of our food pantry,” Ed added. “They are the men and women who regularly donate and deliver thousands of pounds of food to us for our guests. They are also a part of the host of people laboring in the vineyard of our Lord to help feed the poor.”

Volunteer sorts bread for distribution.

Volunteer Barbara Fletcher sorts bread for distribution.

As she sorted through loaves of bread and pastries to be distributed, Barbara Fletcher shared her thoughts on volunteering, saying, “John runs this place like clockwork, and I appreciate that. Being here is a reminder that anyone can come on hard times, and we see people who are really struggling week to week. I love that the clients are treated with such dignity and respect.”

Jeannette Hughes volunteers regularly with her three sons, Jacob, Noah and Daniel. She homeschools the boys and said the experience at the food pantry is significant for them. “It’s important that they have an understanding that there are people in need and see what it’s like to have less,” she explained.

Whether they are packing food, moving boxes or helping clients to their vehicles, Jeannette feels her sons are learning valuable life lessons about helping others, living simply, gratitude and humility.

As two clients, Connie and Denise, loaded food in into their cars, they expressed their appreciation for the assistance that’s being provided during challenging times. “With skyrocketing gas and grocery prices, this really makes a difference for families,” said Connie, whose adult daughter and grandchildren, ages eight and 12, are currently living with her and her husband to help make ends meet.

Mother and three kids standing together

The Hughes family volunteers regularly at the food pantry. From left: Daniel, Noah, Jeannette and Jacob

“It’s been such a big help,” added Denise, whose household includes her husband and nine-year-old granddaughter. “We usually come together to help keep each other company and are very grateful that the Outreach Program exists.”

Both women added that whatever food they don’t use is shared with others. “We don’t want to anything to go to waste,” Connie explained. “It’s just so important that we help each other out when we can.”

With the holidays approaching, Franciscan Outreach is on target to provide a Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings for 400 families and Christmas meals for 350, along with age appropriate toys for the children, John said. It’s their way of giving clients an opportunity to be thankful and know that others care.

Franciscan Outreach has truly been a blessing for her and her two children, said Love, a client for several years. “Around the holidays, this makes all the difference, and I’m very grateful for everyone’s help and kindness.”

Photos by Octavio Duran, OFM, and Eileen Connelly, OSU