How a food pantry saved its future director

February 5, 2021
by Paul Morello

During Black History Month, Feeding America is elevating the voices and stories of Black leaders throughout the food bank network, and the incredible work they’re doing every day to feed our neighbors facing hunger.

“When I first came to the St. James Food Pantry, I really did not want to live.” 

On one of her darkest days, Cathy Moore thought her only solution was to end her life. Her husband had left her. She felt hopeless. Dazed, crying, she wandered around the South Side of Chicago. But, instead of finding her end, she found a new beginning.

“I passed St. James Church. I went to the rectory, I rang the bell, and I was just crying and praying and they took me in,” she said.

A lot led to that moment for Cathy. She went into a foster home her junior year of high school. She battled mental illness for decades. In college, she was a double major – math and secondary education. But, she left school just short of graduation because she got sick.

“I knew what I was going to do for my master’s, I knew what I was going to do for my doctorate. I knew the paper I was going to write. But it was just too hard to recover after I got sick,” she said.

After that, Cathy faced homelessness and depression. She tried holding down jobs, going back to school, but it never lasted long. 

And in her hour of need – wandering past St. James Church – they were there for her.

“St. James saved, changed, and corrected my life,” she said. “I had no one to look up to, I had no positive role models, but when I got to St. James, I knew I was home. It was my family.”

St. James has a food pantry – a longtime partner of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Cathy started volunteering at the pantry and in 2005 was offered a job there. But, Cathy doesn’t call it a job. She calls it a gift.

“They gave me the best gift ever: support, compassion, structure. They gave me hope before I could even accept hope.”

Now the pantry’s director, Cathy is called to give back to her community – through the organization that gave so much to her.

“I’ve been given a lot of mercy and grace. And with that, there’s a responsibility to be a light. To shine that light, to give other people hope. I live by that,” she said.

Cathy is more than a light. She and the pantry are a shining beacon of hope to her community  – especially now as many of our neighbors are turning to pantries for the first time. St. James serves the community every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. They’ve expanded their delivery program to reach even more people during COVID. 

And for her, providing hope – providing life – goes beyond just food. It can be as simple as a smile.

“You don’t know what saves a person’s life," she said. "You don’t know what saying ‘hello’ can do. People don’t come to St. James just for food. This is sometimes the only place where people can come and feel heard, or feel that what they want means something. Food is a way that we sustain life, but it’s not the only way to give life. It can’t just be about handing people some food. It’s about healing the whole person."
 

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