CLARKS SUMMIT – Just days before Easter, a fresh loaf of bread – pumpkin chocolate chip – arrived on the doorstep of Joan Ondush.
Describing it as “sinfully delicious,” the 80 year old was the beneficiary of the “Easter Loaves of Joy” program at Our Lady of the Snows Parish.
During Holy Week, parish volunteers delivered more than 300 homemade loaves of bread to parishioners who are 80 years or older. The parish came up with the outreach effort after recognizing that many seniors faced isolation and loneliness due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The virus can spread but also the gifts of God can spread,” Ondush said. “The first thing I thought about was how blessed we are here at Our Lady of the Snows and Church of Saint Benedict to have Monsignor Quinn and Father Stephen (Asomah). They are shepherds of light and hope and depth of character that is reflected in their spiritual life.”
For the baked bread project, the parish relied on the talents and expertise of a group of 30 volunteer bakers. They lovingly created hundreds of homemade treats in favors like banana nut, cinnamon raisin, blueberry, carrot, chocolate zucchini and many more.
Parishioner Carolyn Siwak, along with her children, used all of their free time in the six days prior to Holy Week to bake more than 60 loaves of bread.
“I just thought it was a great project, especially from our standpoint, being able to share with the community a talent that we had,” Siwak explained.
Her son, Nathan, 13, a 7th grade student at the parish, was happy to assist as well and put his baking skills to good use. His siblings Sabrina, 11, and Alexander, 7, also assisted.
“I feel happy about it. I know some of my classmates and friends delivered breads and they told me how happy people were,” Nathan said.
Nearly two dozen 7th and 8th grade students in the parish’s religious education program joined adult volunteers to make the project a success. Some students put together the handmade baskets while others made deliveries with the support of their parents.
“There were a lot of smiles, lots of tears, lots of people who just haven’t been out of their homes in a year. For them to have someone come to the door and say they’re not forgotten, they are remembered, they are a part of this community, I think that message has reverberated throughout the whole parish in a happy way,” Monsignor Joseph G. Quinn, pastor, said.
Monsignor Quinn, who made roughly 20 deliveries himself, reflected on some of the comments he heard from recipients.
“When one loaf of bread was delivered to a woman, she said, ‘This is like an extra hug from God, I can’t believe it.’ Another woman said, ‘I can’t believe you’re here. I was just thinking about baking bread last night but I didn’t think I could do it,’” Monsignor Quinn added.
Our Lady of the Snows Parish has been reaching out and staying connected to its older parishioners since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than one year ago.
The parish began its outreach efforts with a program called “Calls of Kindness.” To date, parish volunteers have made approximately 1,400 phone calls to parishioners since March 2020.
“We just wanted to be able to stay connected and reach out,” Sue Burke, Our Lady of the Snows Director of Faith Formation, said. “They thought wow, my parish is calling me, they’re thinking of me.”
“We have one parishioner, who is 105, she was thrilled to get a call,” Monsignor Quinn added.
During the pandemic, Our Lady of Snows Parish looked closely at the age of all its parishioners. They were stunned by what they discovered.
“We have close to 500 people over the age of 75. That is a lot of people who are isolated and wounded throughout all of this. We kept asking ourselves, what can we do?” the long-time pastor said.
Throughout the course of the year, that question constantly came up amongst parish staff.
At Christmas, the parish conducted its “Tiny Tim” project to help individuals and families in need. Instead of parishioners buying and wrapping gifts, this year the parish mailed out grocery gift cards to families to keep everyone safe. More than $25,000 worth of gift cards touched the lives of 400 families, children and seniors in the Abingtons.
Many of the projects that Our Lady of the Snows has undertaken since the start of the pandemic have been simple and have not involved a great deal of money. Parish leaders say it has been an opportunity to rediscover the mission of the Church.
Throughout all of their work, they noticed one other important thing – some parishioners are not as “connected” as they thought.
“In a world that is so focused on everything digital and computerized, there are a lot of people who aren’t even connected. I’m surprised at the number of elders we have that don’t even have cable television, much less have the ability to connect electronically,” Monsignor Quinn explained.
As a result, the Clarks Summit parish has now gone from mailing out 20 bulletins a week to 200 bulletins to keep everyone connected and informed about parish activities.
While all of the parish projects have been a reflection of the compassionate care that has always been a hallmark of Our Lady of the Snows, one big question remains. What is the next big project?
“I’m not sure,” Burke said with a smile. “We’re going to continue reaching out and staying connected. We’re always open for ideas and we go forward with them and work as a team.”