Susan Seitz and John Salamone
Just before Governor Holcomb issued a stay-at-home order in late March, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Terre Haute finished replacing the windows in a large basement room next to an alley. That long-planned upgrade has turned out to be a linchpin of the congregation’s mission during the pandemic.
The new windows, as it turns out, make excellent pickup portals for socially distant food distribution.
“People have been lined up around the church and down the block,” says John Salamone, a longtime member of St. Stephen’s and volunteer with Manna from Seven, a feeding program that has operated out of the church since last fall.
Pre-pandemic, Manna from Seven distributed groceries to 75 or 80 people each Friday with the goal of providing clients enough food for the weekend, when soup kitchens around Terre Haute are closed. In recent weeks, as many as 175 people have come to St. Stephen’s for food each week, and surveys about household size indicate that more than 300 people are fed by the effort. Volunteers also make up to 20 deliveries each week to people who need to stay home during the pandemic. They also drop off food for distribution at the city’s housing authority properties and a trailer park.
The new basement windows at St. Stephen’s
“The more word has gotten out, the more people we have,” Salamone says. “Other programs refer people to us, and there are fliers up around town. We’ve had waitresses and bartenders who were making it small paycheck to small paycheck before the shutdown, but who need help now.”
So far, donations have kept pace with the need. Susan Seitz, who oversees the program, says the program has received more than $12,000 in contributions from the United Way of the Wabash Valley and the Wabash Valley Community Foundation since the pandemic began. Catholic Charities has donated more than 5000 pounds of food each week for the past several weeks, including sought-after meat and dairy products are distributed from coolers in the alley.
Donated meat and dairy products for distribution
There’s also, “a whole new crop of volunteers” to replace the retirees who typically staff the program but need to stay home during the pandemic, Salamone says. “I was in the church office right before shutdown happened, and Susan was talking to our priest, Drew [the Rev. Drew Downs], about how worried she was. I said I could help, and I’ve been there ever since.”
Manna from Seven started in 2018 when Seitz and six other people, all veteran volunteers of area soup kitchens, decided to mount a new effort to distribute food in local parking lots and on sidewalks around downtown Terre Haute. Soon the program moved to the Greyhound bus station, and, in October 2019, Manna from Seven began a partnership with St. Stephen’s, located just around the corner.
Seitz says that Manna from Seven has received “incredible support from St. Stephen’s parishioners and vestry.
“We have a home, a place to keep our equipment, our food, and everything that we distribute,” she says. “We have eight freezers, a refrigerator, and industrial shelving. When we were at the bus station, everything was stored at my house.”
Although Manna from Seven is new to St. Stephen’s, Salamone says Deacon Deby Veach, who has served the parish since 2008, has long helped members cultivate a sense of connection to people in need. For several years, she and church member Sandy Bush have spearheaded a collection of personal hygiene supplies, toilet paper, socks and other personal care items to distribute to the community.
Last fall that ministry expanded to include a blessing box, built by church member Austin Willis for his Eagle Scout project. The box, located next to the St. Stephen’s chapel, is filled regularly with non-perishable food and other essential items, and has proved to be so popular that refill supplies are stored nearby in the sacristy.
Eagle Scout Austin Willis built a blessing box.
“We have a small sacristy, so we put in a small shelf to hold donations,” Salamone says. “Pretty soon, we had to put in a bigger shelf. I saw a man on Christmas Eve filling up. People are really using it.”
During the pandemic, he says, Manna from Seven and the food pantry at United Campus Ministries at nearby Indiana State University have been keeping the box filled.
The willingness to help where it’s needed is part of Manna from Seven’s mission, says Seitz. “We’ve been growing since we started. Every donation helps, and it gets used by someone in need. Everyone gives kindness and compassion along with the food we serve.”
Contributions to Manna from Seven can be mailed to Seitz at 7300 Belfonte Lane, Terre Haute, Indiana 47802.