Charity on the Border
By Michael Price
“The true practice of Orthodoxy includes doing good works,” says Father Antonio Perdomo, pastor of St. George The Great Martyr Orthodox Church. “Feeding the hungry is a great way to accomplish that.”
St. George, an OCA (Orthodox Church in America) parish, is in Pharr, Texas, seven miles from the Mexican border. The small congregation of about 60 practices good works in several ways.
Take St. George Food Pantry for example. Located in one of the poorest counties in the nation, the church Pantry has served its surrounding neighborhood for over a year. Open only three hours a week, it feeds about 300 people, many of whom are children or elderly. Some are homeless and most speak little or no English. Most who show up at the Pantry asking for food “fall through the cracks” of other area social services.
“Because this is a border region,” Fr. Antonio says, “Historically, good jobs that pay a decent wage are scarce and few offer any kind of benefits. So many people here, including Food Pantry users, are under or unemployed. We help them as much as we can.”
The Food Pantry came to be because of constraints on the Perdomo family food budget.
“Since we’ve been here, there’s been a steady stream of people coming to the church asking for help,” Fr. Antonio’s wife, Matushka Elizabeth says. “While lack of parish funds would not allow financial help most of the time, Fr. Antonio never let anyone claiming hunger to walk away without food. He always gave them something, even if it meant raiding our family’s food, which it often did.”
Soon it became obvious this could not continue so Fr. Antonio approached his Parish Council with a proposal to open a food pantry. The proposal was unanimously approved.
With help from The Food Bank Of The Rio Grande Valley (most of the Food Pantry food is obtained from them at $.14 per pound) and other contributors, St. George Food Pantry opened in May of 2004.
By December of that year, word-of-mouth brought enough clients to strain the small Pantry budget. Every month the number of people seeking help from the Food Pantry has increased to the point that operation now depends on funds available each month. Approximately 45 families come to the Food Pantry each week. That is a weekly average of over 120 children and 73 adults and elderly. The numbers increase each day of operation as more people learn about the Pantry. There is only one other food pantry in Pharr.
“We welcome all the help we can get to continue this ministry,” Fr. Antonio says, “We have willing volunteer staff, a place to serve, the expertise required, office and storage space and use of equipment donated. What we lack is a reliable source of cash to directly purchase the food and supplies we need to serve those who come to us in need.”
After Nativity and Pascha each year the parish also collects food, toiletries, equipment, candy and clothing for a girl’s orphanage run by Roman Catholic nuns. The orphanage, “Casa Amparo,” is just across the border in Reynosa, Mexico.
Free Street Clinic
Also at Nativity time the parish helps an Episcopalian couple that runs a free health clinic in one of the poorest neighborhoods, or “colonias,” in Reynosa. The colonia was built on a trash dump in the ruins of an abandoned brick factory near the Rio Grande. There are almost no utilities in the area and housing is mostly a concoction of unstable and make-shift shanties. Volunteers from St George, including Analucia, Cristina and Rosa Perdomo, (Fr. Antonio and Matushka Elizabeth’s daughters) help prepare tamales and bag candy for the children who come to the clinic’s annual “Fiesta de la Navidad.” They help distribute these treats, warm blankets and clothing to the entire neighborhood during the Fiesta. Fr. Antonio has read the scriptural account of the birth of our Lord and Saviour at the Fiesta for several years. Throughout the year parish members collect over-the-counter health and first-aid supplies for use at the clinic.
Icons For Mexico
Fr. Antonio recently began a project to help Orthodox Missions and Churches in Mexico by collecting icons and liturgical items for them. He discovered the need of icons while on a trip to Mexico with his two teen daughters.
“Roman Catholic religious art is readily available to the Mexican missions. However, they do not have the same access to true Orthodox, Byzantine or Russian style iconographic art,” Fr. Perdomo says. “It is the presence of Orthodox icons that makes a church, no matter how small, look and feel Orthodox.
Many churches receive new icons, remodel or rebuild and have extra icons and other items just sitting in storage,” he says, “I want to help get some of these to churches in Mexico that need them.”
He is seeking non-western-type icons that are 8”X10” or larger, mounted or unmounted (or any other Orthodox liturgical items). They should be suitable for use in an Orthodox chapel or mission church.
To contribute to any of these ministries or for more information about them, contact Fr. Antonio Perdomo at 520 W. Rosemary Avenue, Pharr, TX 78577 or 956-781-6114 or at: email@example.com
First Printed in: AGAIN Magazine - The Ancient Christian Faith Today. Conciliar Press Ministries. To subscribe, please see their website at: www.conciliarpress.com/again/
Check out the Summer 2005, Vol. 27, No.2 issue of AGAIN! The "Orthodoxy Today" Section features an article entitled, "Charity at the Border" by Michael Price - about our St. George's Parish & its Affiliated Ministries.