Sister Joellen Tumas runs Casa Catalina, a food pantry in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood. It serves more 350 households a week, but "when you minister to the hungry, it's not just about food," Tumas, a pastoral associate at Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church who has led Casa Catalina since 1990, told Dawn Turner Trice in the Chicago Tribune. "Children lose their parents. People get evicted. Families get their gas cut off. We just try to help as best we can to make sure basic needs are met."
Every 15 days people come for food—the bulk of which is provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository—as well as donated clothes, toiletries and supplies for babies and children, and help with government forms.
Tumas, 67, grew up in Back of the Yards when the stench from the Chicago Stockyards inundated the neighborhood, which was then made up of Eastern European immigrants. "We grew accustomed to pulling together," said Tumas, who has spent much of her career as a teacher, child-care worker, and school spiritual director in the neighborhood. "So this is nothing new."
While the Archdiocese of Chicago was closing parishes the descendants of European immigrants had left, the community's Mexican-American congregations were outgrowing their churches. Tumas learned Spanish and began teaching the new residents English. In 2005 Casa Catalina partnered with Catholic Charities to provide more services, including counseling, rental assistance, legal clinics, blood drives, and health fairs. "Many of our brothers and sisters are diabetic, so we've assembled special diabetic bags with high-fiber spaghetti, brown rice, and sugar-free Jell-O," Tumas said. "It's important to not just feed, but teach about nutrition and living a healthier lifestyle."