The St. Anthony Family Center pro­vides food and gro­ceries to about 40 fam­ilies each week. Collegian|Julia O’Neil

St. Anthony’s Family Center pro­vides much more than food to fill empty stomachs. It’s a place of rest — spir­i­tually feeding the dozens of vis­itors that come to the center weekly. It’s a place of encour­agement — opening its doors to people of all back­grounds. It’s a place where com­munity grows.

The family center, located behind St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, opened in the 1970’s with the funding of Catholic Char­ities. At the time, its purpose was to counsel those in need with assis­tance regarding their financial respon­si­bil­ities. Throughout the years, the family center has evolved into a place where people from all walks of life can go to receive gro­ceries, a free meal, or even hope.

Director of the St. Anthony’s Family Center Shelly Taylor, said she never thought she would be doing the kind of work she does today, but that she knows God led her to serve these people through this min­istry.

Each week, the family center serves around 40 fam­ilies. On Tuesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., a home cooked meal for anyone who wants to eat and be a part of their special com­munity is pro­vided. Gro­ceries are dis­tributed after Tuesday’s meal as well as on Friday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Most of the food at the center comes from the Feeding America food bank in Battle Creek, Michigan. All of the food sup­plied from Feeding America are “left­overs” from big grocery stores which are then dis­tributed to food pantries across nearby counties. Other dona­tions are made from the Jonesville Walmart and a small portion is donated by parish­ioners of St. Anthony’s.

When Taylor took the job as director, she knew that the family center was not only going to be about pro­viding food, but would also be used for evan­ge­lization.

“I wanted to ask each person that came in if I could pray with them, if they wanted me to,” Taylor said. “Believe me, it was dif­ficult because it wasn’t some­thing I was com­fortable doing in the beginning, but once I started doing it it just flows. It’s so simple.”

Clients coming into the center come from dif­ferent faith back­grounds. Most people have a spir­itual base, but Taylor says most clients, “some­where along the line, they fell away.”

“We want to be brave and serve them, I don’t think we are as inter­ested in inviting them to be Catholic, as we are to just to be Chris­tians and to get them to know that God loves them,” Taylor said.

Taylor said she still seeks to plant seeds of hope and faith in each of the people who come to the center.

“I ask everyone who walks through this door, ‘Do you want prayer today?’,” she said. “‘There are no strings attached, I’m here to offer you prayer today.’ Some people look at me and I just say, ‘Maybe next time you come back’.”

Taylor has the oppor­tunity to sit with each client who comes to receive food while their order is being processed. During that time, Taylor gets to know each of her clients.

“They always have some­thing on their mind when they come in,” Taylor said.

Taylor also said she sees past the dif­fer­ences in socioe­co­nomic back­ground and faith, wanting to  simply be kind and wel­coming to the people in front of her who could be facing chal­lenges.

“We know how this world is and we feel like this is our little piece that we can do to help people get in touch with God again,” Taylor said.

At the Tuesday lunches, a small talk based on the Gospel is given, in addition to a story about the feast day of a saint. Although the clients may not be Catholic, Taylor said “they are always inter­ested in learning about the faith.”  

“That’s where the little seeds are planted, even if they don’t ever come to our church or another church, they are still getting fed,” Taylor said.

Diana, a client of the family center who asked that her last name not be used, is a mother of 7 children and is now tem­porarily living in a trailer park. With a warm and gentle spirit she shared the chal­lenges she has faced.

“The prayer, it’s com­forting,” Diana said as she walked into Taylor’s office.

Although many clients are appre­hensive about prayer, about 98 percent of them allow Taylor to pray with them, Taylor said. The prayers are no magical way out of their sit­u­ation, but rather a way to keep these people going.

“Most of them tell me, if any­thing, when we’re praying, they feel uplifted and they feel like they can go on again,” Taylor said. “If any­thing, they get peace for the moment.”

The family center could not con­tinue to run without the 10 ded­i­cated vol­un­teers at the center. These vol­un­teers, some parish­ioners of St. Anthony’s and some non-parish­ioners, devote countless hours of their time and energy into serving the people of their com­munity.

Susan LeFevre has vol­un­teered at the family center for the past five years and spends five days a week giving her time and heart to the people of her com­munity, of which she has been a part her whole life. LeFevre does every­thing from cleaning the facility, to picking up food from Walmart, to cooking and serving lunch on Tuesday’s, to stocking shelves, to deliv­ering food to those who can not make it to the center. Most impor­tantly, she works on building per­sonal rela­tion­ships with every person who walks through the door.

LeFevre under­stands the needs of every person who walks through the door, down to which food pref­er­ences each person has to what kind of spir­itual needs they have. She hopes that by wel­coming all people, she clearly demon­strates her desire to make each person feel fully known and fully loved.

“They’re here. They’re here for a reason. So we have to do what we do best,” LeFevre said.

Before the vol­un­teers begin to serve their fellow cit­izens of Hillsdale, they always begin with prayer , knowing that their service must come from the grace of God.

“We could be very judge­mental people if we wanted to be, so we pray every day before we meet people,” Taylor said. “Before we serve people, we pray together.”

All vol­un­teers at the family center have their own story and all rec­ognize the impor­tance of serving others without stopping to judge or question whether someone is worthy of their service.

“I pray and give all my worries to God and I see a path to go on and I go on it, I go for it, I don’t take two seconds to think about what I’m going to do because if it’s a path open for me to say, ‘Hey you need to go do this,’ just don’t worry about what happens,” LeFevre said.

Those who walk into the Family Center in need of food serve the vol­un­teers just as much as the vol­un­teers serve them by demon­strating what true strength and vul­ner­a­bility is.

Taylor invites any person to be apart of this inspiring and heart touching com­munity:

“Have lunch together with people, come down and have lunch with us, it doesn’t matter if you need food or not, just to come down and sit with people they love it.”