Feeding the hungry, one market at a time

ORLANDO | Catholic Charities of Central Florida dedicated and opened its third Agape Mission Market in the Rosemont area of Orlando, Nov. 6. After months of searching for the right space to meet the area needs, the new location stands in a strip mall on the corner of Clarcona Ocoee Road and Orange Blossom Trail. As the market was being blessed, the first clients walked in.

Father Ralph DuWell, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, congratulated the crowd amidst beautiful produce stands, shelves full of breads, canned foods and cereal. He noted the market was a year in the making. After Brother’s Keeper pantry closed due to financial strain, Father DuWell approached Gary Tester, president of Catholic Charities of Central Florida (CCCF), to see how the two could “harmonize ministries” to meet the needs of those left unserved. “St. Charles has always had a pantry and thrift store of some sort, even when it was the Cathedral,” said Father DuWell. “We still have food donations and people who want to volunteer.”

In fact, several parishes have partnered to make the market an ongoing reality. “We’re harmonizing ministries with St. Charles Borromeo and St. Andrew (Orlando) and St. Francis of Assisi in Apopka, Annunciation and St. Mary Magdalen (Altamonte Springs), St. Margaret Mary (Winter Park), and Resurrection in Winter Garden. They are all the parishes invited to participate because the demographics support this area,” said Tester.

Julie Yetter, CCCF senior director of operations, helped design the market. Rustic wood-clad walls, crates and bins, and little signs of hope and prayer give it a warm atmosphere. “I put myself in the client’s shoes. I think, where would I want to go and where would I feel okay about going to maintain that dignity and not feel like I don’t deserve it,” she said. “It’s hope. It’s choice.”

“The thing that makes the Mission Market unique is that the front end is a choice pantry,” said Tester. “At most pantries, we put what we have in a bag and you get it. Here, you get to walk folks around and they can choose whatever their family wants within the amount provided.” He added, “Here, we have hygiene items as well, like toilet paper. We’ll also have an office for a family stability case manager, financial counseling, budgeting, and we’ll also start putting an immigration official out here. So if we have families that need help with immigration, based on the area which we are serving, they can make one stop, right here.” Staff is also bilingual.

Tester expects the new Rosemont market to draw clients away from CCCF headquarters off Semoran Boulevard and that’s perfectly okay with him. “Unlike previous years with ministry, we’re trying to be where they are instead of them coming to us. That’s why this is beautiful.”

Strategic needs are being assessed in the hopes of opening other markets in Lakeland, another in Orlando and hopefully in Palm Bay or south Brevard County.

“Jesus is the fulfillment of the love. Take all the commandments, all the rules, and it comes down to love God and love neighbor. That’s what this market does,” said Father DuWell. “It’s a way for us to give to the community because the community gives to us. As a pastor who looks for tithes, treasure and talent, for us to be able to give back—that’s exactly what this is.” He recalled Father Richard Trout, Vicar Forane of the Central Deanery South, saying God will ask us what we did for the “least of my brothers” when we get to heaven. “When God asks me, ‘did you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked…?’ I can say, ‘Yes I did.’ And He will say, ‘Come on into Heaven,” said Father DuWell with a smile.

Agape Mission Market at Rosemont is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic  November 06, 2019