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St. Cecilia's and Catholic Charities: Partners supporting the community

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Parishioners of St. Cecilia Parish in the Back Bay have volunteered with Catholic Charities of Boston (CCAB) for the past 11 years, providing support in the form of food donations and more.

Parishioner Mark Lippolt of St. Cecilia's Hunger and Homelessness Ministry recently shared his experiences volunteering with Catholic Charities, how COVID-19 has changed things, and the importance of volunteerism to the St. Cecilia's community.

Q: How did St. Cecilia's first get involved with Catholic Charities? What do volunteers do for the organization, and how has that grown over the years?

St. Cecilia's was introduced to Catholic Charities 11 years ago, when Father John Unni -- who formerly led service trips to Haiti -- and several parishioners toured Catholic Charities' Haitian Multiservice Center at the Yawkey Center in Dorchester, and learned that Boston has the third highest population of Haitian-Americans in the U.S. The group figured if we could not go to Haiti regularly, we could help our Haitian neighbors here in Boston. From there, a group of parishioners, including myself, were introduced to the Yawkey Center's food pantry. Providing food for the community is a big focus for our parish, so we began collecting food donations for CCAB at our Masses. At the time, a manager of a Whole Foods store was a parishioner and offered to donate surplus baked goods. Since then, we have connected with a couple other Whole Foods stores and a Trader Joe's in the area, and each weekend volunteer drivers from St. Cecilia's visit the various stores and deliver the donations to the Yawkey food pantry. It has grown exponentially over the years, and now, every Saturday and Sunday volunteers deliver food to the pantry. We've barely missed a weekend in 10 years.

Along the way, we have grown close with other programs at CCAB, including Refugee and Immigrant Services, the Teen Center, and shelter services. Pre-COVID, parishioners regularly donated grocery store gift cards in our offertory collections for incoming refugees. We also include both Refugee and Immigrant Services and the Nazareth shelter on our annual Advent Giving Tree as another way to support.

Our relationship with the CCAB team has helped to shine a brighter light on the agency within the parish, and CCAB is now the go-to place for many parishioners looking to make any kind of donation -- including furniture, food, money, and other essentials. Our parishioners want to help, and if they see an opportunity to get involved in any capacity, they jump on it.

Q: How has COVID-19 changed the way you volunteer with CCAB?

The pandemic has altered the way we donate to some degree, but we remain committed to helping CCAB whenever and however we can. St. Cecilia's parishioners are very fortunate, and seeing the unemployment rate rise and knowing more and more people are counting on food pantries to feed their families really drives us to continue helping out. Although our church closed for a few months because of COVID-19, we continue our weekend deliveries to the Yawkey pantry, and now encourage parishioners to order shelf-stable food online and have it shipped directly to ensure that pantry shelves remain stocked. Since the pandemic began, there is a need for baby items, especially as CCAB's child care centers reopened, so we encourage donations of formula, diapers and wipes.

Q: Why is supporting CCAB important to you and your fellow parishioners?

The biblical verse "to whom much is given, much is expected," resonates with us at St. Cecilia's. Being able to provide food and other assistance for our neighbors is so meaningful to me and our parishioners; service to others feels good and it feels right.

I'm passionate about Catholic Charities' mission and what they do for our neighbors day in and day out. Knowing that CCAB welcomes us with open arms makes a difference, and now our parishioners are truly self-cultivating. When we hear of specific needs from the CCAB team, it's educational and encourages our community to engage and help. I like to say that "it takes a parish." One person does not have to do a lot; it's when everybody does their part that the combined efforts start to make a difference.

To learn more about volunteering at Catholic Charities, visit www.ccab.org/volunteer.

Jacqueline Cunniff is marketing communications manager at Catholic Charities of Boston.

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