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Sister Ann: God continues to provide senior lunches
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When Sister Ann Venita Britto started her Ministry of Caring eight years ago at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, one of the first things she wanted to do was to hold sit-down luncheons for area seniors, whether they were parishioners or not, mobile or in wheelchairs.

There was just one hitch. Father Richard Morse, who was then the pastor at St. Anthony’s parish, stated it plainly to the India-born nun who used to work as a school teacher at St. Bernard’s School in Tracy and at St. George’s School in Stockton: “You don’t have a budget. You just have to depend on the Lord.”

Noting her worry about how to go about securing funds for her outreach program, Father Morse told her simply, “Get it for the Lord and He will provide.”

“And that’s what I did. I told Him, ‘Lord, I’m doing this for you. You have to send me the money,’ and He really did,” Sister Ann recalled.

And when she needed people to help her with the program, again she sought divine help. “Lord, you have to send me the people,” she prayed. “And they all came out to help. Every time I have a luncheon planned, I pray, ‘OK Lord, you better send these people out,’ and they come.”

She does not just sit down and wait for the help to come, though, believing that God helps those who help themselves. At every opportunity she gets, she will ask anyone to make a donation for her seniors’ ministry whether it be in monetary form or some type of service. Several entertainers in the community who have heard of her outreach work for area seniors have offered their talents and treasures through the years for gratis. At the Christmas party on Tuesday, for example, Harmony Flores and her Cheer Stars will be there to entertain the seniors. A group of handbell ringers from The Commons in Manteca will be giving a handbell concert as well. And the JRP and Company band will make an encore appearance.

None of the performers are paid, not even a shiny penny, because she does not have a budget to pay anybody. So she relies on people’s voluntary offers of help. “You know me, I’ll take anything I can get for free,” Sister Ann said with a laugh.

Not only does she get volunteers who lend a helping hand but also “people who donate to buy the plates. I have no budget for that,” she said.

Today, she has a core volunteer of nine people augmented by others who come to help whenever they can.

Just a few days ago, two families called and informed her that they made a Christmas promise this year “to come and help with my luncheon. So there are eight of them coming (to the Christmas luncheon on Tuesday) – parents and children – to help. I also told them the children have to be 18 and older to be able to help because of insurance reasons. I have lots of people who say ‘I want to come and volunteer’ as their Christmas promise to the Lord,” said a happy Sr. Ann Venita.

The Christmas luncheon, one of several held during special holidays of the year such as Easter, Fourth of July and Halloween, will be held in the school gym from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. All of the luncheons are held in the same location and at the same time.

These are sit-down meals with the food prepared especially for the senior guests in the kitchen area of the gym. White table cloths cover all of the dining areas, and food and drinks are served to each guest. The tables are always decorated with colorful centerpieces that are then given away as raffle gifts at the end of the luncheon. The centerpieces are, in large part, handmade by Sister Ann and a group of creative volunteers – vinyl LP records made into bowls that serve as a vase for floral arrangements, for example.

The senior luncheon program has come a long way since the first one held eight years ago. Today, they have guests coming from Prestige Senior Living, Merrill Gardens, The Commons, and other private care homes in Manteca. There were times when some residents at next-door Palm Haven Care Center came to the luncheon on hospital beds being pushed by volunteers.

“We started with, like, 100 people. Now we have 360 who showed up for the October (Halloween) luncheon. It keeps growing and growing. But they (the seniors) enjoy it. And that’s really the focus: to give joy to these people who have given so much to their community they’ve helped before when they were younger. That was my idea when I started,” Sister Ann said.