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Pontiac — The hungry and the needy lined up inside a gymnasium at St. Vincent de Paul Church on Woodward Tuesday afternoon.

As usual, there was a warm meal available inside the Matchan Nutrition Center, including fried chicken and pork and greens and potatoes. And hope, according to church spokeswoman Michelle St. Pierre.

“For some of these people, it is the only warm meal they will have today,” said St. Pierre. “There are also given a bag of food to take home and can select a hat, scarf or gloves and a sleeping bag, if they need it.”

St. Pierre said with the help of volunteers and generous donations from several businesses, the Nutrition Center doubles as a food and clothing pantry and services 500 men, women and children every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.

The Pontiac-based program has been helping to meet the need of city residents for more than 30 years, she said.

“We feel we get back more than we give,” said St. Pierre. “I met an 8-year-old boy here, Joey, who told me his feet hurt and showed me a hole in his shoes.”

Fighting back tears, St. Pierre told how the pantry provided Joey not only shoes and socks but a coat, hat and gloves. Volunteers visited the boy’s home where they found he slept on the floor and obtained a mattress, bed and bedding for him.

“He probably never had a mattress, or sheets or pillows for that matter,” she said. “All things many of us take for granted. What many people don’t realize is this could be one of your next-door neighbors. Smiling when they see you on the street but hurting inside their homes. You don’t know what goes on behind their doors.”

St. Pierre noted anyone could be put in the same position as many in the gym: losing a job or a lingering illness or medical condition. That’s where the “Vincentians” come in, she said.

Last year, the organization helped thousands of people and provided legal, health and utility bills.

Bob Harper, a longtime volunteer said thanks to businesses like Costco, GFS, Panera, and Meijer, the nutrition center provides food so people will not go hungry.

“Food is available,” Harper said. “It is important to make people aware that it is available.”

Another volunteer, Betty Esnault, who was supervising the bagging and sorting of food for people to take home with them, agreed.

“There is no need for anyone in Oakland County to go hungry,” she said. “Sometimes people are afraid or to proud to ask.”

Many of those at Tuesday’s lunch spoke of their gratitude.

Terry Lilleyman, who said she is homeless but living in an “abando” — an abandoned home — left with one of the sleeping bags and some of the clothing items being offered Tuesday.

“There are shelters where I could stay but I’m too independent for that,” said Lilleyman. 59. “I hope to have a job soon so I can get my own place. The people here are excellent, very helpful.”

Mike Palazzolo, 58, an unemployed cook, rents a room in a nearby house. He said “they always have good food” at the lunches, which he described as “a blessing.”

“I only eat what I need,” said Palazzolo. “If there doesn’t seem to be enough, I don’t have any.”

That was no problem Tuesday where plates were filled by volunteers such as Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who at one point was in charge of distributing greens and then taking a turn at one of the clothing tables helping people select hats or mittens.

“I was told I was being too generous with the greens,” said Vigneron, who was wearing a baseball cap and an blue apron. He said it was the “third or fourth time” he had volunteered his services at St. Vincent de Paul, including a visit in February during Lent.

“We are all supposed to help alleviate suffering,” Vigneron said. “It’s important to offer your help but also treat people with respect.”

Linda Ferguson, 72, said she became homeless last year after the person with which she shared an apartment — who was also her employer — died. She had lived there for 28 years but could no longer afford the $1,000-a-month rent.

“I was never homeless in all my life and I always worked but suddenly I didn’t have anywhere to live and no longer had a job. It can happen to anyone.”

Persons in need of help and those wishing to make donations to the nutrition center are encouraged to call 1-877-ST-VINCE or visit the website at svdpdet.org.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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