A food pantry that has remained a staple of Buffalo's West Side community for more than a decade received a new designation. In September, Holy Angels Parish in Buffalo formally dedicated its food pantry to its founder, a Missionary Oblate who devoted his life to serving the poor and hungry. It will now be called the Father James C. Erving, OMI, Food Pantry.
"It came about from the mission center that the Oblates founded," said Father David Muñoz, OMI, parochial vicar of Holy Angels, Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope parishes in Buffalo. "When we made a decision to stay in Buffalo, we got a lot of our lay people involved and started a group called the Oblate Association. We already had a food pantry for Holy Angels, but we wanted to expand it so it could reach more people. Now that we have the three parishes, we wanted it to be a food pantry for the neighborhood."
Father Erving was born in Brooklyn on Jan. 22, 1971. He was ordained in 2000 and died of brain cancer at the age of 43 in March 2014 while serving in San Antonio.
According to Angelo Travale, director of development at Holy Angels Parish, a major part of Father Erving's mission was to provide wholesome food such as meats, vegetables and fruits with no questions asked. Father Muñoz said Father Erving believed in a food pantry that provided more than traditional canned goods, but also fresh, nutritious foods that were minimally processed.
"If they came and said they were hungry, we gave them food," Travale said. "We weren't going to ask for ID or proof of income or any of that. That was the charism of St. Eugène de Mazenod, who was the founder of the Oblates. St. Eugène loved the poor, and that was part of the Oblate mission."
The food pantry serves people on the entire West Side of Buffalo, not just those in Holy Angels Parish. The Oblates also staff Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope Parishes, and many parishioners help with the collective efforts as well. The food pantry usually is busier during holidays, averaging about 120 to 125 people a month.
"You can see the look on the people's faces when they come," Travale said. "They come on foot, and they'll have those little two-wheeled carts. Some of the people are young women with children. Others are older people, or elderly people that are just struggling because they can't make it on whatever assistance they're getting."
Travale said the experience at the food pantry has opened his eyes to the great need in the community. The West Side is on the rebound, he said, but there are many people who still struggle for their everyday needs.
"You feel sorry for them, because there is a great need, and we're just doing the best we can to try and fulfill that need," Travale said. "We're in great need of donations, either food donations or monetary donations, sent to the parish in the name of the food pantry, at the rectory, or they can mail checks to the parish address, addressed to the Father James C. Erving, OMI, Food Pantry."
Father Muñoz praised the decision to name the food pantry after Father Erving.
"He responded to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. We want to do it the same way he did," Father Muñoz said.