Foundation’s Mercy Fund grants boost parish ministries

MERRILLVILLE – Eight local ministries that feed and support mental health in their Diocese of Gary communities are sharing a total of $9,500 in Mercy Fund Endowment grants thanks to the Catholic Foundation for Northwest Indiana, which presented the 2023 grants at a Friends of the Foundation reception on Nov. 8 at Innsbrook Country Club.
“Thanks for being among those who help us to grow in good works,” said Bishop Robert J. McClory in presenting the grants. “It is a night to celebrate the Foundation, but it’s (also) a night to celebrate God’s work among us.”
Judy Holicky, diocesan coordinator for Stewardship and Development, explained that the Mercy Fund was established in 2016 within the Catholic Foundation to provide funding for projects that embody spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Providing care for the poor and marginalized, bringing hope to the hopeless, and protecting those too young or too old to advocate for themselves fit the grant criteria.
“This year’s winners reflect the increased need to feed the hungry and to care for the spiritual and mental health needs in our community,” noted Holicky.
The 2023 Mercy Grant recipients are:
Nativity of Our Savior Food Pantry – Portage: From 25 families a week before the pandemic in 2020, the pantry now serves more than 600 individuals every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. “With the Mercy Grant, we will be able to provide more assistance, reach more individuals, and offer hope in these trying times. We had to buy a shed for more storage space, and we have added another freezer,” said Father Kevin McCarthy, pastor. “Our numbers are increasing.”
Sacred Heart Food Pantry of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception - Michigan City: The Sacred Heart pantry, moved to St. Mary after Sacred Heart parish closed, serves everyone. “We are open on Fridays from 4:30-6:30 p.m. for those who work days, and also from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on Wednesdays,” said volunteer Dave Nelson.
In 2022, 784 households were served. In the first six months of 2023, more than 1,300 families, representing 4,000 individuals, have been served. “We get food donations, but we usually need to buy dairy products,” added Eileen Nelson. “We are set up like a grocery store, and clients go with a volunteer and select what they need, including meat, produce and non-perishables. We also have paper products, personal hygiene and cleaning products.
“We even stock over-the-counter medications through a partnership with Franciscan Open Door Community Alliance, and they refill the cabinet twice a week,” said Dave Nelson. “We have volunteers from all four Michigan City parishes, and when we get donations of large portions, we share them with the First United Methodist Church of Michigan City, which operates a soup kitchen five days a week.”
St. Agnes Adult Day Service Center, Caregiver Support Group - St. Paul - Valparaiso: In addition to their care of the elderly, St. Agnes provides three monthly meetings to support caregivers of individuals with dementia. They meet to share stories and provide hope, comfort and resources to those individuals, their families and caregivers. They serve many families struggling through the stages of dementia with loved ones, the Caregiver Support Group has seen continued growth with 30 current participants.
“These caregivers think only about their loved ones, so we try to care for them,” said St. Agnes director Barb Kubiszak. “We will use the grant to produce brochures, buy books and pay for speakers as needed. We have care packages we give to new families, with things to show we care about them.”
St. Mary of the Lake Outreach to the Poor Food Pantry – Gary: Serving 140 households on the third Monday every month, totaling about 400 individuals in Lake and Porter counties, the pantry provides food, information, and other resources. Starting in November 2015, the ministry has been growing steadily. 
The pantry benefits from the Community Garden at St. Mary of the Lake and receives Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program aid to expand services to more families and to expand the food distribution to more than just once a month. “The garden provides about 4,000 pounds of fresh produce from June through October, and we also try to provide two to three meats,” said pantry coordinator Karen Simon. “The grant will be very helpful in providing more tables and monitoring safety.”
St. Matthias Mental Health Ministry – Crown Point: Starting the conversation about mental health in a parish setting will allow parishioners to feel their needs are acknowledged if they are struggling and to be more perceptive to others who struggle with mental health issues. The brand new program’s goals are to spread awareness and provide a safe setting where people can share their stories. Secondly, the ministry will help by providing relevant guest speakers and information about assistance. 
“We want to host four dinners, have some talks, and start with education about different types of mental health issues to be able to direct people to those who can help them,” said Jackie Gentry, pastoral associate. “We are constantly getting requests for resources, who can they contact, and we want to address this need.”
St. Matthias Pick 7 Food Pantry – Crown Point: This monthly ministry creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere where up to 400 participants enjoy hospitality, share breakfast together, and get to do their own shopping by picking seven items from the “Shopping Room.” When available, the parish nurse provides blood pressure and blood sugar checks along with wellness information. At each event more than 300 individuals are served.
“We are very blessed to get this grant,” Gentry noted. “We have seen an increase in clients in the past few months and we will use it to purchase food and personal care products.”
Ss. Monica and Luke Soup Kitchen – Gary: For more than 30 years, including every week during the pandemic, the soup kitchen has served the homeless, marginalized, impoverished men, women, and children in Gary, including individuals and families, approximately 200 every Friday. They live in a food desert and are served a nutritious, balanced meal, since COVID-19 on a carry-out basis.
“I am so elated to receive this grant, which will go a long way toward feeding out clients,” said Verle Suggs, pantry director. “Our volunteers are mostly retirees who remain active and provide fellowship.”
Society of St. Vincent de Paul, District Council of Gary, Inc. Feed the Hungry Food Pantries at St. Ann – Gary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Casimir – Hammond: SVDP is dedicated to fulfilling the Acts of Mercy across the diocese. These three SVDP food pantries serve the communities all year long. They provide food to 200 families in need and provide an example of the love and compassion of Christ. “The money from the grant will be disbursed evenly between the three conferences so they can purchase food items and grocery gift cards for holiday food baskets,” said Diane McKern, vice president for programs. “It’s a blessing.”
To support the Mercy Fund, contact Holicky at 769-9292, ext. 268 for more information, or send a donation to the Catholic Foundation, 9292 Broadway, Merrillville, IN 46410.