Diocesan News

Food Pantry Filled With Help From Bright Christmas Fund

Sister Caroline Tweedy, the executive director at St. John’s Bread & Life, said
increased demand and rising food costs have challenged food ministries, but staff
and volunteers stay focused on helping people feed families. (Photo: Bill Miller)

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — St. John’s Bread & Life knows how to put its share of The Tablet’s Bright Christmas campaign funds to good use. 

The Brooklyn food bank was founded 40 years ago by the Sisters of Charity and Vincentian priests in the basement of the original site of St. John’s University. It was started to help meet the needs of a community where unemployment was rampant, with few jobs to be found. As a result, people were unable to pay rent and were being forced out of their homes. 


According to Sister Caroline Tweedy R.S.M., the executive director of St. John’s Bread & Life, their mission is simple: to feed the body, mind, and spirit of anyone in need. 

“We never turn anyone away,” she said. “Last year, we served 289,000 people over the course of the year, including 66,000 families that accessed our food pantry with another 40,000 accessing our mobile market program.” 

Every year at Christmas, St. John’s Bread & Life tries to help raise funds to provide 750 holiday food baskets for needy families. Each basket includes a large chicken and enough food to feed four to six people. 

“The Bright Christmas funds help us provide this basket along with a gift card that allows a family to purchase a gift of their choice for a child,” Sister Caroline explained. “We used to have a toy drive for the children, but since COVID, we couldn’t take the chance of having people in the building, so we decided to offer the gift card instead.” 

She said the basket cost has more than doubled this year due to the rising cost of food and gifts. 

“So, we are especially grateful for the support we receive, and my hope is that the Bright Christmas fund will continue to assist us in our efforts during this holiday season and in the years to come,” she added. 

Sister Caroline is very proud of the pantry’s track record, admitting that St. John’s Bread & Life kitchen did not close for one day during the pandemic. 

“We were the only ones in Brooklyn that were open every day during regular business hours,” she explained. “We have a staff of 35, but we have quite a few volunteers who come in, and we get people from all over the world who want to see how we do things.” 

St. John’s Bread & Life has been fully automated and using technology at the pantry since 2000, and they’ve served as an example for other pantries in how to use that technology to serve the community better. The pantry currently provides 32 pounds of food to a family of three, and anybody with a larger family is allocated more food. 

“We determined that between the end of SNAP benefits for some and the replenishment of SNAP benefits, there is a gap, and we provide food for three nutritionally balanced meals per person each day,” she said. 

St. John’s Bread & Life distributes approximately 180,000 hot meals from its pantry annually. In addition, the pantry provides other necessities such as personal hygiene kits, socks, shirts, gloves, hats and scarves, and coats in the winter when available. 

They also deliver meals to senior centers so that elderly individuals don’t have to come and wait in lines to be served. Sister Caroline was grateful that Bishop Robert Brennan helped the pantry initiate its 40th anniversary by celebrating a special Mass. 

Bishop Robert Brennan, a graduate of St. John’s University, has been a great supporter of the pantry over the years and, according to Sister Caroline, was a volunteer when the pantry first opened its doors in 1982. 

Bright Christmas began under the leadership of Deacon Don Zirkel, former editor of The Tablet, in the 1960s, when there was a booming movement to help inner-city children. At that time, the fund consisted of a few thousand dollars, distributed throughout the parishes in the diocese so children could partake in a Christmas celebration. 

Pastors, parish administrators, and directors of diocesan groups seeking assistance this Christmas should contact The Tablet as soon as possible. The campaign grants funds only to those parish groups and outreach efforts within the Diocese of Brooklyn that request help to brighten this holy season, focused on the most important gifts of family and faith.