Volunteer Mack Kennedy helps hand out food on a recent morning at the pantry at St. Thomas More Parish in Washington, one of four city parish food pantries supported by the Mulholland Family Foundation.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Volunteer Mack Kennedy helps hand out food on a recent morning at the pantry at St. Thomas More Parish in Washington, one of four city parish food pantries supported by the Mulholland Family Foundation.

The first time Brian Mulholland showed up to donate food at St. Thomas More Parish's food pantry in Washington, the organizers of that Southeast Washington parish program were wondering how they were going to meet the needs of their clients.

"We were down to nothing when he (Mulholland) brought us truck loads of food," said Mary Waters, a parishioner of the parish who heads the pantry. "We were shocked when he showed up. All I can say is God is good because it was a blessing."

Mack Kennedy, a former law enforcement officer who volunteers with the pantry also remembers that day.  "We had to put up a 'No Food' sign for the first time," he said.

Brian Mulholland is chairman of the board and president of the Mulholland Family Foundation. His foundation, he said, "provides food to pantries serving the working poor."

The foundation collects the food through donations and through purchases from the Capital Area Food Bank, SHARE and Giant supermarkets.

Formally know as the John S. Mulholland Family Foundation, Inc., the organization works to feed the poor in Washington, D.C. It supports four city parish food pantries: at St. Thomas More, St. Luke and St. Francis Xavier parishes in Southeast and Holy Name Parish in Northeast.

It was named after the late John S. Mulholland who worked for the FBI and was active during his lifetime in assisting the poor. Brian is Mulholland’s son. He said the foundation assists already established, but under-stocked, food pantries in the nation’s capital. With every individual and family assisted in this mission, John Mulholland’s message lives on.

"This is a calling and a way to honor the memory of my father," Mulholland said of the foundation's work.

Mulholland noted that when he is able, he provides pantries not just with non-perishable canned goods, but also with milk, eggs, fresh greens, fruit and meat and poultry. The perishables are stored in donated refrigerators and freezers.

"I saw cereal sitting on the (food pantry) shelf and it dawned on me that our people (who utilize the food pantry) like milk on their cereal," Mulholland said of his desire to provide perishable foods as well.

The Mulholland Foundation carries out its work with volunteers. The foundation spends just 2 percent of the money it collects on overheard costs, "things like postage and renting U-Haul trucks to deliver food," Mulholland said. "We operate on a shoestring."

He estimated that in the last four years, the foundation has collected and donated to food pantries about a half million canned food items and about 22 tons of fresh food.

Mulholland said that most people do not realize there is a "very real hunger situation in the District."

"One of the highest food insecurity rate and one of the highest cost of living is in the District," he said. "Regular everyday working folks can't get by without places like this trying to meet the needs of the neighborhood."

He added that "one in four kids in Washington woke up this morning with no breakfast, and we are trying to answer the call" to help.

"The most rewarding thing I've ever done is working with these people here helping others," Mulholland said as he and St. Thomas More food pantry volunteers handed out bags of food.

In collecting food for the poor, Mulholland said his "biggest challenge" is "to find people of like-mind and heart who say 'yes' to the poor." However, he added, "there is a lot of goodness out there. You just have to pray for it to find it."

The food pantry at St. Thomas More "started out by helping just a couple dozen people, and now we serve about 350 people a month," Waters, the head of the food pantry said. "We started when someone came to the door one day. Then from there we started serving senior citizens and others in the neighborhood."

Iretha Person, Suzanne Chandler and Alice Proctor – longtime parishioners and volunteers at the food pantry – assemble the food bags. The three can fill about 50 food bags in an hour.

The food bags prepared for clients typically includes canned vegetables and fruit, pasta, soup, a protein such as tuna fish, peanut butter and jelly and macaroni and cheese. That is supplemented by perishable items such as milk, eggs, hot dogs or chicken, collard greens, potatoes, onions and fresh fruit.

Mack Kennedy makes sure the bags are stacked and ready for him to hand out to clients who come to the rectory door.

While Thanksgiving and Lent are popular times to collect food for the poor, Mulholland said, his foundation also conducts a summer food drive because "hunger takes no vacation."

"Twenty-seven parishes participated, and we collected and delivered 71,000 cans of food," he said.

Father Raymond Moore, pastor of the parish, noted that the food pantry is open on Wednesdays and Fridays. "We are trying to take care of those who cannot go to far away places" to get food, he said. "You don't have to be Catholic for us to help, you just have to be hungry."

The end of the month is particularly difficult for families, he said. "You go to our local Giant store and you will see that it is empty at the end of the month – people do not have money."

"This is the work of the Church and the work of the Gospel," Father Moore added. "This connects us with the community. For some people who previous to this have had no contact with the Church, they see we are a Church for others, we have something to offer."