Building the Body of Christ: the Aquinas Center's Easter Outreach Story

In the heart of South Philadelphia, the Aquinas Center, located at 17th & Morris Streets, serves as a beacon for thousands of families in need, particularly immigrants and refugees from Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. The Aquinas Center is part of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Community, a parish that sees over 1200 people each weekend, spread across six masses offered in four different languages. Throughout the week, a variety of services, activities, and programs reach and additional 400 people. They also regularly host volunteer groups from schools and universities, offering students a multicultural urban immersion experience. Given their vision to meet people where they are and to serve them in tangible ways, it was only natural for the Aquinas Center to join Easter Outreach as a community partner.

This partnership is vital. In 2015, the Aquinas Center – which is housed in a building that offers ample space and a large parking lot – served as both a packing and distribution site for Easter Outreach. In the week leading up to delivery day, dozens of volunteers from throughout the greater Philadelphia area flocked to 17th & Morris to pack over 800 meals, completing this huge task in just a few hours. Then, the following Saturday, more volunteers arrived to deliver many of those meals throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. Additionally, over 100 meals went directly to the families that the Aquinas Center was already connected to through their Spanish Sunday School program.      

“What I loved was the energy that those two days brings,” says Bethany Welch, the founding director of the Aquinas Center. Looking ahead to this year’s Easter Outreach, she wonders if there are more ways to plug more people in, to extend that energy to even more volunteers and meal recipients.

“Food is a great way to introduce yourself to people,” she says, noting that having the families that the Aquinas Center serves come to the site and pick up their meals in person is a good system for them.  “We like having people pick up their meals here, because it builds community for us.”

Easter Outreach also serves to connect people to services and programs that go far beyond one simple dinner. For example, the Aquinas Center will soon be offering additional legal services, and they hope to use this event as a comfortable and easy way to connect people to this important resource. Additionally, they’ll be using this as an opportunity to advertise their gardening program and at-home gardening kits, a resource that is especially helpful to those who come to Philadelphia from agrarian communities.  

“The resurrection, and the message of the risen Christ, could go across all of us, no matter what slice of Christianity you come from,” says Welch. As one of several Catholic communities that are a part of  Easter Outreach, the Aquinas Center’s partnership highlights the importance of making this effort ecumenical, and finding unity within the church’s diversity. “These meals are a pathway to something bigger, which is this idea of the Body of Christ working together.”

To learn more about the Aquinas Center, please visit their website. Head over to the volunteer page to learn more about meal packing and delivery at the Aquinas Center.  

Easter Outreach 2016 at the Aquinas Center