Although only seven months into the job, the Rev. Patricia Calahan, the new pastor at the Union Church of Pocantico Hills, is already fulfilling her hopes for change.
“Shifting the direction of a church is often compared to turning a tanker,” Calahan said. “It takes time. But not here. This congregation was ready for something new and I have had wonderful support from them, the trustees and the deacons. No negativity, nothing lukewarm. The door is wide open.”
And high on the agenda is Calahan’s efforts to aid the Sleepy Hollow High School Food Pantry, which is staffed by faculty, staff and students during the school year but needs assistance during the summer months.
The pantry was started a year ago, when, after a food drive, a student asked if it would be possible to take some food home. Shocked, the school then did a survey of its students, asking about the reliability of their access to food, and discovering that some 74 were food insecure. In a school where two thirds of the students are on the free lunch program and the other third have wealthier parents, the district moved to equalize that situation by setting up the pantry.
“132 families are registered and the program is run very impressively by Jacki Geoghegan,” said Calahan. “People who drive through to pick up supplies are treated with respect and dignity, with regard for their safety and confidentiality.”
She had heard about the pantry when reaching out to various organizations in the community, expressing a wish to help and asking what was needed. “We have wide resources, space, able people and a willingness to raise money,” she explained.
Sleepy Hollow High School responded within hours. The pantry had already built on its success and its volunteer pool of faculty and students, gaining support from Feeding Westchester, the USDA and the TaSH Farmers Market. It plans to build a structure to enlarge the operation, offering users more agency in the choice of food.
“I was so struck by their need and their overwhelming generosity,” Calahan said. She asked what the pantry needed, and while food was obviously top of the list, volunteer help during the summer was next. This led to the organizational meeting Calahan planned for April 23, inviting other faith communities and organizations to get involved, each possibly sponsoring a week of aid. Already the Church of the Magdalene in Pocantico has offered to sponsor a week. Calahan hopes to develop a general volunteer pool too.
“We are very grateful for the help Tricia is trying to mobilize which will be critical for us continuing to serve the people registered, throughout the summer,” commented Geoghegan.
This is only the pastor’s first step along the road of change and contribution. Working with her own background in music – she is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music with degrees in violin performance and Suzuki pedagogy – she is also investigating the possibility of developing a music school at the church. Again, this would be a means of offering practical aid and opportunity to those unable to pay.
The congregation has surprised her in its willingness to consider big shifts in direction. But, “After the transition and Covid, they wanted something to happen, to move forward and use the resources here of space, time and energy,” she said
Calahan has met that readiness with concrete ideas and confidence. Her new role, at a church with a rich heritage and a family feel – and some world-class stained glass by Matisse and Chagall – fills her with delight and enthusiasm. “Where will we be in five years?” she wonders aloud. It will be very interesting to see.