Church effort fights hunger - Catholic Courier

Church effort fights hunger

PENN YAN — Twenty-four members of Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community took a crash course in hunger July 17-22, taking part in a number of local hunger-relief ministries during the community’s Hunger Awareness Week.

This is the first time the six-parish community has dedicated an entire week to one social-ministry initiative, said Peggy Ruscio, social-ministry committee leader at St. Januarius Parish in Naples.

“There’s such a need, and hunger can be diminished or eliminated,” Ruscio said, explaining the need for such a week.

Hunger Awareness Week kicked off Sunday, July 17, with a blessing and a presentation about Bread for the World after Masses at each of the parishes. During a reverse collection at the Masses parishioners took slips of paper from baskets passed around the churches. Each piece of paper listed one or two food items needed by local soup kitchens, and parishioners were asked to bring those items to Masses the following weekend. The next Sunday, at least 30 bags of groceries were collected.

The reverse collection really helped people understand that if everyone does their small part, one community can accomplish great things, said Anne Meyer-Wilber, social-ministry committee leader at St. Michael’s Parish in Penn Yan.

“It was just so powerful. It made all of us realize we can do something,” Meyer-Wilber said, noting the “something” a person does might be picking up two extra cans of beans each week at the grocery store and donating them. “We’re all called to serve. There are opportunities around us all the time.”

On July 18 Hunger Awareness Week participants served lunch at Gleaner’s Kitchen in Canandaigua and prayed the rosary at St. Michael’s. On July 19 they learned more about the local migrant farm-worker community and helped Meals on Wheels in Penn Yan. July 20 was spent volunteering at the Geneva Soup Kitchen, and on July 21 participants helped sort and prepare bags of food for distribution at Food for the Needy, located at Penn Yan’s First Baptist Church.

That afternoon volunteers also unloaded a truck from FOODLINK for Food Sense and held a Quaker-style quiet prayer circle at a local retreat center. On July 22 participants helped with distribution at Food for the Needy before gathering at St. Michael’s for Mass and a picnic lunch. After lunch they wrote thank-you notes to the organizations that had hosted them earlier in the week and were given information about Bread for the World’s letter-writing campaign to eradicate hunger. Participants were also given a bulb, although they weren’t told what kind of plant it would eventually become.

“Take a bulb and plant it somewhere. You don’t know what it is; you just plant it and see what comes up,” Meyer-Wilber told parishioners after the closing picnic.

The same can be said about programs such as Hunger Awareness Week, she later noted. You never know exactly what people will take away from such a program or what specific experiences will “plant a seed” in people.

St. Michael’s parishioners Les and Gail Raymond participated in three Hunger Awareness Week events. Both had helped out at hunger-related ministries before but had never devoted so much time in one week to the cause, Les said. It’s important to help the hungry because every act of mercy and goodness brings peoples closer to the reality of God, he said, adding that he was struck by the number of hungry people right in his own back yard.

“They’re not starving people like you see in Africa or anything, but they’re hungry,” he said.

Fellow parishioner Carol Conti said she enjoyed working at the Geneva Soup Kitchen. Volunteers there are kept busy making all the food from scratch, serving it and cleaning after the meal.

“I’d never made macaroni salad for 100 people before. It was quite an experience,” Conti said. “It was very rewarding, very personal. We sat with the people that were there and chatted with them.”

Conti said she was also surprised by the diversity of the people served by the ministries. She’d expected the majority of people would be senior citizens, but instead saw people of all ages looking for food. Several other volunteers were also gratified and even amazed to see the way people receiving services and food helped those around them, Meyer-Wilber said. Some of these people helped set up and clean up, while others helped the very young, old or disabled.

“It wasn’t just us doing the service. It was people seeing the God in each other,” Meyer-Wilber said. “That sense of service isn’t just for those that can afford to give. Money is not the point. The point is to be able to serve someone else.”

At the week’s conclusion, many who participated said they planned to continue volunteering with some of the ministries. The weeklong program was so successful that Meyer-Wilber said the parishes will likely hold another one next year, although she’s not sure if next year’s program will focus on hunger.

“God is going to direct us in which way to go with this. It isn’t finished … it’s evolving,” she said.

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