Coronavirus News: Church in Queens hit especially hard by COVID-19 finds way to give back

ELMHURST, Queens (WABC) -- A local church has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic, but that hasn't stopped its members and leaders from giving back to the community.

At St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Queens, there is little that the congregation can do for the families of so many in the immigrant community who have died.

There is a list of about 60 members who have died, but it is estimated there are dozens more.

They're not allowed to have people in the church, so priests at St. Bartholomew perform brief services for just a few close family members, but it is not enough and Rev. Rick Beuther knows it.

"It's terrible, it's terrible when you offer mass in a big church like this and it's just a few of us and it's just terrible because you want to reach out and embrace someone who is suffering and you aren't able to do it," Beuther said.

That part has been frustrating for Beuther, but there is another part of his job that he is still able to do and he has doubled down on that part.

He can't do much to help those who have died, but Beuther can help the living.

A food pantry at the church sponsored by Catholic Charities is feeding 1,800 people Friday. All the donated food will go to people in the neighborhood who have seen so much pain.

Many are families who have been out of work for two months and do not have documentation or government benefits. Families who took home blue bags received 11 meals per family member in three bags.

"The last eight, 10 weeks has been a real tsunami, a disaster for us here, between sickness, death, unemployment and just lack of services for the undocumented," Beuther said.

Beuther says even with empty pews, he can still help the neighborhood by feeding the families and answering the phone.

"They are reaching out just to talk, to tell stories, they're reaching out for ears, just to listen," he said.

There has been a 200 percent increase in demand for food since the pandemic started.

Catholic Charities will continue sponsoring these pop-up food pantries until they see the need decrease.

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