Distributing Food, Giving Hope

By Magazine Staff  |  Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York

Ask Andrew Olesh, ’09, what he gives the average family visiting the food pantry where he works, and he rattles off the list: 32 ounces of shelf-stable milk, 64 ounces of apple juice, a can of salmon, a can of mixed vegetables, a pound of dry beans, a pound of rice, a pound of pasta, canned fruit, peanut butter, cereal, and a bag of produce. Depending on donations, sometimes there might be frozen meat or fish, too.

Still, as site coordinator for the community outreach services department for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, Olesh isn’t just worried about providing nutritious food. He also wants to know how the clients are doing with rent payments, whether they need additional advice, assistance, or advocacy. And he believes the most important thing he gives them doesn’t fit in a bag.

“You get to show people that you care about them. And not about them as a number in your food pantry, but as a person,” he said. “Even if it’s something as simple as a smile or asking a caring question, that’s a way you can give to that person. That’s a way to show to them that there’s still hope.”

Olesh is responsible for case management and emergency food services for the food pantry on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which serves about 1,000 clients a month. Each family can receive food there only once a month, so he and his colleagues work to connect them with other resources if they need additional assistance.

As he engages in social justice issues, Olesh often reflects on what he learned majoring in philosophy and theology at Loyola and thinks of New York Jesuit martyrs who gave their lives.

“If I’m going to care for a person as a person, I have to meet them where they are,” said Olesh. “I’m the one with the Jesuit education. They might not have that privilege. I have to go to them.”

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