Photos courtesy of Christopher J. Berke, Director of Music, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church
"Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
As many as 200 Hernando citizens per day of service are gathering to pick up generous servings of gourmet soup and bread at the Free Drive-up Soup Kitchen, a presentation of the Chefs of Napoli restaurant, St. Frances Cabrini Church, and the Amici Nostri Social Club.
Cars filled with families, buses filled with senior citizens, and others stream into the parking lot of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Catholic Church, 5030 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill, noon-2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They receive fresh, hot servings of (depending on the day) vegetable, pasta, potato, vegetable sagoli or other soups, plus fresh homemade bread--all prepared by master chefs in the kitchen of Chefs of Napoli, an Italian restaurant located in Spring Hill, and warmed in the church kitchen before serving.
"I've seen tears in the eyes of the people who pull up in their cars," said Jeanne DeLuca, co-owner and managing partner of the Chefs of Napoli restaurant. "I see seven people arrive in one car. I see buses. I see their gratitude."
It was Chefs of Napoli co-owner Ralph DeCristofaro, a longtime parishioner at St. Frances Cabrini and Chairman of the Annual Feast of Mother Cabrini, who spearheaded this initiative with the help of members of Amici Nostri Social Club and Father David DeJulio, pastor of the church.
"We saw the need to team up and help," said DeLuca. "Food pantries have been closing up, people are out of work and they are hungry."
To feed the hungry, restaurant chefs carefully select and prepare soups and breads, which are distributed by restaurant, church and social club volunteers dressed in protective gear and practising social distancing at all times. People are asked to stay in their cars and a food pantry worker will approach and place the carefully packaged food in the vehicles.
The soup kitchen tent is accessed through the Norvell Avenue side of the church; drivers roll right up to the front entrance of the church where the soup tent is erected. Call (352) 683-9666 for more information.
"Acting on Ralph DeCristofaro's good idea, we figured out the logistics, what was needed for social distancing, and how to get the food out there packaged and ready," said Sherri Collinsworth, the Parish Manager of St. Frances Cabrini Church. "We figured our parking lot was the perfect place."
And, says Collinsworth, the perfect ministry.
"The need is great, but people are so wonderful and giving," she said. "We're so grateful to the people at the Chefs of Napoli, and we feel the gratitude coming from the people served."
Collinsworth says that the soup kitchen reflects and embodies the mission of the church.
"While the church loves helping people around the world, we especially love those local ministries, where we could see first hand the difference being made. Our mission revolves around charity, accompaniment, evangelisation," she said. "This covers it all."
And the soup kitchen effort may cover even more in the future, perhaps extending to 7 days a week if the need arises.
"If the need is there," said DeLuca. "Then we will be there."