Local Parishes Alleviate Hunger Through Divine Word Pantries

Theresa Carson, Public and Media Relations Director - Chicago Province



Making Thanksgiving possible for hundreds in a West Virginia Food Desert

Every November, the employees at the Walmart in Flatwood, W. Vir., anticipate the arrival of Father Thien Duc Nguyen SVD. They fondly call him The Turkey Man because he typically purchases 200 Thanksgiving birds for those in need in Southern West Virginia.

Fr_Nguyen_WV_Patron.jpgAs pastor of St. Thomas Catholic Church in Gassaway and its sister mission, Risen Lord Church in Maysel, Father Thien understands the plight of the poor.

“The sad reality is that there are no grocery stores in the whole of Clay County,” said Father Thien. “This is a food desert. An IGA opened in 2015 and closed in 2019. Then, an individual opened a small family grocery store in 2021, but it went out of business in September. Now, residents must drive anywhere from 30 to 60 miles to reach a grocery store.”

Persistent poverty plagues West Virginia. According to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau report, the poverty rate in West Virginia is 16.5 percent. The report also identified 11 counties—one-fifth of the total in the state—as suffering from persistent poverty, which is defined as having poverty rates of at least 20 percent for more than 30 years.

WV_House.jpgThe struggle passes from one generation to another. This region, which has depended upon coal mining as an economic staple for centuries, has fallen even deeper into hard times as public and private entities strive to transition to a tourist-based economy. However, the change could take decades, if not another century.

In addition to economic travails, a June investigation by U.S. News & World Report reported that four West Virginia counties ranked among the top five counties nationwide as having the lowest mental health score. Of the 25 U.S. counties with the lowest scores, more than half are in West Virginia.

The Divine Word Missionaries have served the Appalachian region since the 1970s, tending to people’s spiritual and material needs.

WV_Food_Pantry.jpgFather Elmer Nadicksbernd SVD, a missionary in the state for two decades and co-founder of the Risen Lord Food Pantry in Clay County, said, “If West Virginia were a stand-alone state, it would be considered a Third World country.”

Father Thien and his volunteers continue the mission that Father Nadicksbernd began. The St. Thomas Food Pantry is open every second Thursday of the month, followed by the Risen Lord Food Pantry every fourth Thursday. Between the two sites, they provide food for roughly 800 people a month.

“We time the food pantries as we do because that’s when people’s government assistance begins to run out,” Father Thien said. “We can use more help.”

To find out how you can continue to support our missionary work, click below

 Ways to Give

Young adults with candles

Donate Today!

Your offering to Divine Word helps our missionaries bring the Gospel of Christ to the poor and forgotten around the world.

Give Today