CLAYMONT — The Faith Formation Committee at Holy Rosary Parish took a gamble this Lenten season, and thanks to that leap of faith, the people of Burkina Faso, one of West Africa’s poorest countries, have 10,000 meals on the way from Claymont.
More than 120 volunteers showed up on March 25 to bag, package and box the meals, which consist of a vitamin packet, rice, soy and dehydrated vegetables. Holy Rosary was taking part in a project called Helping Hands, sponsored by Catholic Relief Services, with the materials, shipping and distribution handled by an organization called Stop Hunger Now.
The gamble? To participate in Helping Hands, Holy Rosary had to commit to buying and packaging 10,000 meals. Each costs 50 cents, so the parish was on the hook for whatever part of the $5,000 it could not raise.
“Being a small parish, we were nervous,” said Theresa Moschelle, Holy Rosary’s director of faith formation. “It was our first time, but we met our goal. We had some fundraisers, and through donations we’ve met our goal. We are able to fully fund it without taking parish funds to do it.
“For 50 cents a meal, this meal has six portions in it. So for a buck, you’re filling 12 bowls of rice. You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck, and I think a lot of people fed into that. A lot of people gave big donations,” she added.
Bagging the meals was done in teams of five. Four people poured the items through a funnel into the bag, which the fifth person held. Filled bags were taken to one of the several weigh stations, then to other volunteers who sealed them. Finally, a group of volunteers boxed the meals. After watching a video about CRS and receiving instructions from a Stop Hunger Now representative, the volunteers finished the task at hand in just over an hour, said Mike Graney, a member of the Faith Formation Committee.
The parish hall underneath the church was buzzing with activity as the project neared. Moschelle said the corps of volunteers represented the parish and the community well. They ranged in age from 5 to folks in their 80s. High school students were there to collect service hours. A Boy Scout troop sent assistance.
“About a third of our group – which is about a third of our congregation – is our Hispanic volunteers, so we have support from our whole community,” Moschelle said.
University of Delaware freshman Mackenzie Steinberg, 19, was there with her mother, Laurel. Volunteer work comes naturally to Steinberg, who has helped at the parish carnival and other church and non-church activities for several years.
“I knew we were helping people who really needed help, and it’s a good opportunity to bring the people of the church together,” she said.
Like many college students, Steinberg had just one potential issue. “It’s just getting up that’s the problem, but once I’m here, it’s a lot of fun.”
The workers included members of the parish staff, including its permanent deacons and the pastor, Father John Gayton, who was streaming video of volunteers in their red hairnets on Facebook Live. Father Gayton said it was “highly encouraging to see people from every age, from all of our seniors down to all of our teenagers coming together for a common project during Lent.”
He said Helping Hands would “pull together all three aspects of Lent, that is, taking care of praying for those who are in need of prayer, our own fasting, and using that fasting to raise money to get this food. Then doing the acts of charity to get this food over to Africa.”
Moschelle said the Faith Formation Committee was looking for a service project to augment the normal Lenten activities such as speakers and parish missions after a survey last year indicated that members of the congregation desired that. She came across the CRS project after doing research online.
Holy Rosary is the only parish in the diocese involved in Helping Hands this year, but CRS is hopeful that others will dip their toes into the water in the future. In some dioceses, Moschelle said, parishes operate together to bag 50,000 meals or more.
“We were looking for a Lenten mission activity and decided to go hands-on to supplement the other things that we’ve done,” she said. “We were afraid because of the money, but apparently we can raise $5,000.”