Parishioners of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Washington, DC held a “Global Meals for the Hungry” event on March 26 to benefit those in need in Puerto Rico.
Cynthia Battle, director of faith formation at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and coordinator of the Global Meals campaign, was involved in the genesis of the project. The Global Meals fundraising effort began on the first Sunday of Advent.
The Advent/Lenten service project, which took place in the parish’s Panorama Room, welcomed 178 volunteers. Battle said this effort was multi-generational, with volunteers ranging in age from 10 to his 93-year-old mother.
“It’s important that we live the word of God, not just read about it,” Battle said.
Beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, volunteers signed up and were invited to watch a training video.
Although the group’s goal was to fill and pack 35,000 rice meals, they far exceeded that goal as 55,000 meals were ultimately packed. Their assembly line also turned out to be more efficient than expected, and the group had finished packing before noon. According to Battle, each meal costs about 30 cents to prepare. These rice-based meals include shelf-stable vegetables, fortified vitamins, and soy blend.
Battle connected Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish with the No Child Hungry organization for help in coordinating meal preparation. She was interested in this group because they work globally and she wanted to focus on Puerto Rico.
“What we’ve noticed, when you look around, there’s a lot going on in Haiti, in other places, but Puerto Rico seems to be the forgotten group of people who are not being contacted,” said said Battle. “I’m not saying they aren’t, but you don’t hear much about them. They are still very poor.
The US territory currently has a poverty rate of 44% and would have received funding through President Biden’s “Build Back Better” legislation, according to Bloomberg Company. The House of Representatives passed this legislation, but it stalled in the US Senate.
Some members of the parish accompanied by their pastor, Josephite Father Michael Thompson, will travel to Puerto Rico to distribute meals.
“When we’re done packing the meals, it’s a huge thing,” Battle said. “The boxes are stacked on top of each other, they pack them on pallets, they load them onto the truck, those boxes are ready to ship, and then [No Child Hungry] takes them back to Orlando, where the band is from.
Then No Child Hungry will coordinate with the parish to find out when the goods will be shipped to Puerto Rico.
Battle said the project was initially not well received by everyone in his parish.
“We started getting a lot of reactions from people early on because they were like, ‘You know, we got hungry people here in the United States, we got hungry people here in Ward Eight,'” Battle said. “I was like, ‘That’s right, you’re absolutely right.
Battle explained that this project is in addition to the services the parish already has in place and provides regularly to the local community in this part of Washington.
“We have a food pantry every Thursday, Martha’s Table is down the street and does all the work they do to help people. We’re not saying we’re doing this instead of that, we’re saying we’re doing this in addition to that,” Battle said.
Participants in the meal preparation included parishioners of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, members of other churches, including St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in Capitol Heights, families and students from schools such as Washington School for Girls and Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland.
Those who have participated in the “Global Meals for the Hungry” effort at Our Lady of Perpetual Help have included young people in their parish’s religious education program. These students, ages six to 10, also raised $1,600 through their popcorn fundraiser and also wrapped the volunteer thank you pouches.
COVID safety measures have been taken to protect volunteers. Attendees had to present official proof of vaccination and wear protective gear, which included not only masks and gloves, but also hair nets.
“The best thing about it was everyone had so much fun doing it,” Battle said. “Next, [volunteers] talked about how it made them feel like they were helping people they didn’t even know.
When asked if she wanted to arrange another ride, Battle replied, “Yes… Let me sleep first.”