The Catholic Diocese of Fall River has terminated its longtime facilities manager at the Island’s Good Shepherd Parish, eliminating a position that included operating the parish’s growing food distribution program.

In an email statement to the Gazette, archdiocese spokesman John Kearns said that Good Shepherd Parish Rev. Father Paul Fedak made the decision to reorganize staffing at the parish and eliminate the facilities manager position.

Mr. Kearns said that the elimination of the position would not impact parish programs and that it would continue to support the food distribution program “without interruption.”

“Going forward, the responsibilities of the facilities manager will be assigned to other staff members,” Mr. Kearns said.

The Island has a tight-knit Catholic community, with churches in all three down-Island towns making up the Good Shepherd Parish. Father Fedak took over for Rev. Michael Nagle in 2021, who served as parish reverend for 28 years before his retirement.

Food distribution program was started in 2019 and regularly serves hundreds of Islanders. — Ray Ewing

In an interview, former facilities manager and founder of the parish’s food pantry and distribution program Joe Capobianco said he returned to the Island from his son’s wedding last week and was told on Wednesday by Father Fedak that his position had been eliminated. He said the announcement shocked him.

“The first thing he said to me is, ‘how was the wedding?’ I said it was great. Then we sat down, and he said, ‘I’m eliminating your position,’” Mr. Capobianco said. “I said nothing.”

Mr. Capobianco has served as the parish’s facilities manager for 13 years. In 2019, he helped start the parish’s food distribution program in partnership with volunteers, staff and the Boston Food Bank. The distribution program offers a bi-monthy food pickup on Saturdays that includes frozen meats, fruits and vegetables, providing carloads of food to hundreds of Island families.

The food pantry is also open from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tuesdays, with the pantry servicing about 100 families and close to 300 household members, according to Mr. Capobianco.

At the height of the pandemic in 2020, Mr. Capobianco would drive to Boston to pick up thousands of pounds of food for the program, which saw enormous lines snaking all the way from the church in Oak Bluffs to Our Market off New York avenue, servicing hundreds of families in times of need. The 5:30 a.m. weekend trips into Boston have continued through 2022, with Mr. Capobianco driving a large truck to pick up approximately 10,000 pounds of food every month. If weather was bad, Mr. Capobianco made sure to go off early and get a hotel, knowing families relied on the program.

“It started when Covid hit, we were doing like 300 boxes,” Mr. Capobianco said. “It just blossomed from there.”

Mr. Capobianco was also instrumental in the Oak Bluffs school’s food and backpack program, which would provide kids with backpacks of food at school to bring home to families.

In the interview, Mr. Capobianco said that the food distribution program would continue and that a different parish employee would do the food pickups from Boston. But Mr. Capobianco was also responsible for more of the intangible facets of the operation, he said, including fixing broken pipes, building out the pantry’s refrigeration, managing tricky drop offs and making sure pickups went smoothly.

“Everybody had my cell phone number. They weren’t calling the church, right?” he said.

The Good Shepherd Parish food distribution program is crucial part of a much larger food equity network on Martha's Vineyard that has expanded since the Covid-19 pandemic and is gearing up for the winter season. The Island Food Pantry, operated by Island Grown Initiative, has approximately 3,300 people registered for its services, more than double where it was pre-pandemic, according to IGI executive director Rebecca Haag.

While the food pantry is by far the largest food distributor on-Island, Ms. Haag said that programs like Good Shepherd Parish help supplement families with much-needed groceries.

"Every piece of the puzzle is important," Ms. Haag said. "I think it’s a reliability issue. And my understanding is that program is continuing, and that would be very important for the overall needs of the Island."

Mr. Capobianco said Father Fedak gave no cause when explaining why the position had been eliminated. But he said a human resources employee with the archdiocese told him that the position had to be filled by a staffer currently on the parish payroll.

“There’s no cause, your job is just being terminated,” Mr. Capobianco said Father Fedak told him.

He said he was sickened by the decision.

“The bottom line is, there was no compassion in the Catholic Church,” Mr. Capobianco said. “After 13 years, I find it disgusting that they didn’t say to me, ‘you know what, we’re having trouble with your salary, we’re reorganizing. Would you take the position at a lesser pay?’ I would have said no, but at least I would have had the choice.”

Mr. Kearns said Father Fedak shared the announcement that the position was eliminated to parishioners over the weekend.

“Father Fedak understands the distress and disappointment that the decision to eliminate the position brings to the impacted employee and a severance package has been offered,” Mr. Kearns wrote. “Father Fedak expresses his gratitude for the work of the former facilities manager over many years and his dedication to the parish.”

Father Fedak declined to comment. But in a video provided to the Gazette of his announcement to the parish during Mass last Sunday, he said that personnel changes were a normal part of parish transitions, like the one that Good Shepherd Parish began when he took over for Father Nagle. He said he took a look at all parish employees and determined that the facility manager position could be filled by other staff on payroll.

“Oftentimes, what comes with that are changes,” Father Fedak said at the mass. “I’ve come to the decision after praying for a year that the parish does not need a facilities manager. So that position has been eliminated.”

He said that parish employee Sara Steigelman was able to drive to Boston to do the food distribution pickup last week, and that she would continue the pantry program.

“We have full confidence in Sara,” Father Fedak said in the video.

Mr. Capobianco said in the interview that he would land on his feet, and that he had already interviewed for new jobs. He added that he hoped to continue his work helping to feed Island families.

“I want to stay in the food outreach program,” he said. “I knew everybody who walked in. I knew them by their first name.”