Bishop Deeley presents the Matthew 25 Award to the St. Thérèse Food Closet

The St. Thérèse Food Closet, a ministry of St. Thérèse Parish in Sanford, is this year’s recipient of Catholic Charities Maine’s Matthew 25 Award.

The award, which includes a stained-glass plaque and a $5,000 donation, was presented to Barbara Russell, the closet’s director, and to Father Wilfred Labbe, pastor of the parish, by Bishop Robert Deeley and Deacon Frank Daggett, program manager of Catholic Charities Maine Parish Social Ministry, during a Mass celebrated at Holy Family Church in Sanford on Saturday, July 23.

“As we give this award, we give thanks for the grace of God which guides these efforts,” the bishop said. "Graced by the love we receive from the Father, we know ourselves called to love each other. The work of the St. Thérèse of Lisieux Food Closet is an exemplary way in which that is being done in this parish. In this work, and the many similar activities throughout the diocese, we see the Gospel alive.”

Matthew 25 awards are given to parishes to support social ministry programs. The food closet applied for the award, so it could continue to provide meat to its clients. Russell said while the closet used to be able to obtain frozen meat at no cost from the federal government, that is no longer the case, resulting in a “significant burden” on the closet’s resources.

“For years, the federal government has provided frozen meat every month for distribution to our clients. Four months ago, the shipments stopped, and they have given no indication when they will resume. Consequently, we’re forced to purchase the meat with our own funds. This grant will help us through these tough times,” Russell said.

In addition, part of the $5,000 award will be used this fall to purchase hats and gloves for some of the closet’s clients and to buy a few heavy coats in case a client shows up without one, which Russell said has happened in the past.

The food closet, which operates out of the St. Ignatius Gymnasium in Sanford, is open to anyone facing food insecurity, whether or not they live in the town. Last year, it served 2218 individuals.

“There is no greater corporal work of mercy than making sure that those who are in danger of going without have what they need. Jesus gave us his body and blood at the Last Supper for food, then said to go and do likewise for others. This is just following that example: ‘As I have done for you, now go and do for one another.’ It’s a beautiful thing,” said Father Labbe.

“The living of the Gospel is not something institutional. It is personal. It is the work of each of us in the parish,” the bishop said. “It is neighbor helping neighbor. We are all called to participate in the mission of the Church to bring God’s love to our world.”

The food closet depends on volunteers to operate, and last year, they put in approximately 1935 hours of service. Some have been helping out since the closet first began operating in 2016.

“We love it. It just makes you feel good. You’re giving to others. You’re helping others, and at the same time, we’re enjoying it,” said Carlene Roy of Shapleigh.

“It’s fun, and we’re doing a good thing,” said her husband, Mike. “You just feel like you’re doing something. It helps out people.”

The volunteer commitment continued even through the harshest months of the pandemic. The closet closed for just a week or two, then changed the way it operated by moving food distribution outdoors.

“They adapted, and the volunteers, and the parishioners, and the donors just came through and kept it going. Their usage was up because people either lost their jobs, or they got sick, or they had to take care of someone who was sick. Many parents, if they had children who got sick, they had to stay home. They couldn’t go to work. And the food closet really came through in that time of crisis,” said Deacon Daggett.

The volunteers said the number of people being served has significantly increased since the pantry first opened and has continued to climb.

“Lately, we’ve met quite a few new families coming in for food, so we know that it’s well needed,” said Rejeanne Dubois, a volunteer from Alfred.

“There are a lot of people, and there are going to be more people coming down because of the prices,” said Anne-Marie Sanger, a volunteer from Alfred. “The prices are so high.”

Following the award presentation at Holy Family Church, a reception was held at the food closet, giving the bishop an opportunity to learn more about how it operates and to chat with volunteers and with a couple of clients who live in the nearby St. Ignatius Apartments.

 “I think it’s wonderful,” said Gilberte Michaud. “Sometimes, they have just the right thing that we would have to go out and buy.”

“We come every week and get whatever we want, and if we don’t need it, we don’t take it. That’s what we all do,” said Therese Tardiff.

The food closet, which is open every Thursday from noon to 2 p.m., gives clients the opportunity to  specify which items they want and need to ensure that food doesn’t go to waste.

The food being distributed comes from a monthly government allocation, which is supplemented thanks to donations from the parish community. If you would like to make a monetary donation to support the closet’s mission or are able to volunteer, contact Barbara Russell at (603) 970-0306 or visit

Volunteers at Mass
Donna, who originally ran the food closet.
Opening procession
Bishop Robert Deeley
Mike and Carlene Roy
Liturgy of the Eucharist
Deacon Frank Daggett
Presentation of the Matthew 25 Award
Bishop Deeley presents the award to Father Wilfred Labbe and Barbara Russell.
Bishop Deeley tours the food closet.
Bishop Deeley with Barbara Russell and volunteers
Bishop Deeley chats with two women who use the food closet.
Barbara Russell displays the Matthew 25 Award.