By Maria Wiering
Baltimore-area youths joined with U.S. bishops Nov. 11 to package meals for Africans facing a food crisis.
From noon to 2 p.m., nine youths from Maryvale Preparatory School in Brooklandville, four youths from Sacred Heart of Jesus in Highlandtown and bishops from across the country filled plastic bags with rice, soy protein, dehydrated vegetables and vitamins for nutrient-dense meals.
Other workstations provided quality control, sealed the bags and boxed them for shipment.
More than 35 youths from the archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, the Diocese of Wilmington and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., joined more than 30 bishops in shifts throughout the afternoon.
The “Helping Hands” event – sponsored by the Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian arm of the Catholic Church in the United States – was held the day before the bishops’ annual general assembly began in Baltimore.
Held at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, site of the bishops’ meeting, the event supported a partnership between CRS and the North Carolina-based Stop Hunger Now program. CRS coordinates similar meal-packaging events with parishes, school and organizations in several states.
Youths, bishops and other volunteers packaged 30,246 meals, which Stop Hunger Now will send to Burkina Faso, a West African nation suffering from a drought-induced food crisis. Each bag could yield six meals.
This was the first time CRS hosted a service project pairing bishops and youth at one of the bishops’ general assemblies, organizers said.
The event aimed to provide meals to address immediate hunger needs, but CRS also sends educational materials to help people in need achieve self-sufficiency, said Sara Robinson, CRS manager of community giving and Helping Hands Program, who coordinated the event.
“It’s really important to remember that you don’t end hunger just by sending food to someone,” Robinson said. “CRS really believes in changing lives for the long term.”
At one workstation, Bishops Michael G. Duca of Shreveport, La.; Robert D. Gruss of Rapid City, S.D.; Joseph A. Pepe of Las Vegas; and two Maryvale students discussed iPads, school work and the students’ college aspirations as they packaged meals.
Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Piet, a junior, said it was gratifying to know their efforts would make an impact in areas of need.
“It’s not work,” she said of the packaging process. “We’re doing this so efficiently.”
Scooping protein in the bags, Bishop Gruss said he was glad to be there to serve.
“I don’t get opportunities like this too often, so it’s nice to help when you can,” he said.
Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, said it was important for the bishops to “be part of the relief” because they sponsor CRS programs.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” he said. “It’s very hands-on, very practical, takes a little bit of our time.”
To see a slideshow of the event, navigate the arrows below. Maryvale junior Jasmine Brown, 16, is interested in organizing a Helping Hands event at her school, she said as she held a plastic bag under a funnel as her tablemates added their ingredients. For her, volunteering with the bishops gave her a chance to understand the process.
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori visited with Baltimore-area volunteers at the end of their shift, and said the youths’ “joy and enthusiasm” was a “great thing.”
While he was there, a gong sounded, marking 12,000 meals packaged in two hours.
“I’m here for meetings, but seeing the students reminds me of why we’re here working so hard: so that our church can engage in serving the poor and the needy,” he said.
Brianna Cimino, 14, a freshman at Maryvale, said that working alongside the bishops was a “privilege.”
“I feel honored to be able to do this,” she said.
At another workstation, Paola Correa, 13, and Yeralda Saenz, 15, worked with other members of Sacred Heart of Jesus’ youth group and CRS staff members.
Correa, who attends Mother Seton Academy in Baltimore, said the project heightened her awareness of poverty, “since we don’t know what it’s like not to eat.”
Saenz said volunteering with the bishops was a way of saying “thank you” for the food she has.
Copyright (c) Nov. 12, 2012 CatholicReview.org