By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published January 7, 2010
The world is shrinking, and dire Third World poverty is no longer out of sight for North Georgians. It is just to the south in Haiti and Jamaica or Central America. Mission trips have created deep links between churches here and Catholic missionaries there.
But how do you help when the scope of the need is huge and a life or death situation?
St. Peter Chanel Church has found a way to work with Missionaries of the Poor (MOP), a religious community formed by Father Richard HoLung in the Caribbean.
Once a year the parish holds a structured food drive that fills a 40-foot container with food. Like most drives, it relies on the generosity of the whole parish.
What’s different is that a committee of about 10 people takes the food list from MOP for Cap Haitien, Haiti, ahead of time and works with grocers Kroger and Publix and warehouse clubs BJ’s, Sam’s and Costco to match up food items needed with particular outlets. When the drive starts, people can buy specific foods by the case where they shop.
When people come out of St. Peter Chanel on two Sundays, they can pick up a card at a table. Depending where they shop and how much they want to spend, they select a commitment card for a particular item. No one else will get that card.
“When you tell us you shop at Publix, we have the list of what they sell. Publix has a display that says Haiti food drive for St. Peter Chanel. They go right to the checkout,” said Judi Schmerge. “We give out cards for two weeks. Then we collect for two Sundays. We have a truck with a big banner that says Feed Haiti. People bring the cases to the truck. We check them off. We take it to a warehouse space in Roswell. Parishioners help us unload. Then we palletize it all in the warehouse.”
Those who can’t shop can choose a money commitment card. The funds buy beans, rice and other staples wholesale. When full, the container truck is sealed, then transported by Food for the Poor to Cap Haitien, where Missionaries of the Poor unseal it.
This year the drive, concluded just before Christmas, provided 43,000 pounds of food, including 10,000 to 12,000 pounds of rice; 8,000 pounds of beans; 2,000 pounds of chicken feed for laying chickens; and 2,000 to 3,000 lbs of corn meal. It will give the missionaries three months of food for the two centers where they care for elderly men and women and abandoned children and supply their twice weekly food lines for the poor.
“God is just so good. He just does it. The Spirit works in the hearts of the people and it just comes,” said Schmerge. “We thought this year it would be less. There are so many people hurting here. But that is the beauty of it. They realize that although people are hurting here, they are also hurting there. We had one of our most successful years.”
She says over five years the Haiti food drive at the parish has provided about $250,000 in food.
Jane Rodgers, the central contact for MOP in the United States, said this annual drive, one of a handful like it in the country, is “a huge relief not only to the Missionaries of the Poor, of course, but to the people of Haiti.”
Because of it, and the fact that three other churches across the country do something similar each year for Cap Haitien, “Father HoLung doesn’t really have to worry about sending food there.”
“It is a life and death situation,” she said. “Oftentimes some of the children will have seizures from malnutrition. … Once they are fed, these are changed people. Sometimes the brothers find people that have been living in a small hut that haven’t had food for days and they don’t have room for them in one of their missions, but they invite them to come and eat.”
Each Lent, parishioner Brian Durham at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Smyrna organizes a container-size food drive for the Kingston, Jamaica, centers of Missionaries of the Poor, Rodgers said.
That is the only such drive going to Jamaica. More food help is needed there where MOP has 200 brothers, many projects and a weekly food line in the ghetto, she said.
“It has been a prayer of mine for other churches to come on board and send food to Missionaries of the Poor in Jamaica,” Rodgers said.
St. Peter Chanel has developed a packet on disc to help any parish who wants to use their model to run a container-size food drive. For information contact Jane Rodgers at (404) 248-1197 or www.stpeterchanel.org.