By ANDREW NELSON, Staff writer | Published June 10, 2016
COLLEGE PARK—A loud gong, sounded by Hailey Miller, a rising freshman at St. Pius X High School, set off a burst of whoops and applause from the hundreds of people busy filling plastic bags with soy, rice, dehydrated vegetables and a vitamin pack.
A new addition to the Eucharistic Congress weekend, the hunger project was welcomed by volunteers who crowded around tables for two shifts of two hours each to make 100,000 simple meals. The meals will make their way to West Africa to help a country struggling to feed its residents.
“This is tangible. I see, feel and touch. I’m actually making a difference,” said Jim O’Connor, 58, who participated by playing hooky from his bank job. “To see all these like-minded people is heartwarming. We all have the same purpose.”
Irma Nanez, a member of St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, said she felt her time scooping a coffee cup of rice into a funnel to fill bag after bag was a small role but that people are obligated to look out for others.
Dubbed Starve Wars, the half-day event on Friday, June 3, brought together families, individuals, work colleagues and nonprofit groups to pack the bags at the Georgia International Convention Center. It was facilitated by archdiocesan Justice and Peace Ministries, Catholic Relief Services and Helping Hands. Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief agency, provides the necessary supplies.
Rachel Malinowski, the program officer with Helping Hands at Catholic Relief Services, said the food will be sent to 27 CRS facilities in Burkina Faso. The food goes hand in hand with a CRS program teaching women and men job skills, such as cloth making, to lift people out of poverty, she said.
The food shortage in Burkina Faso is dire because farmers face a cycle of both flooding and drought. The weather and degrading agricultural land makes growing crops difficult, she said. Nine out of 10 workers are involved in agriculture, mostly subsistence farming. About a quarter of the population of almost 19 million people is Catholic; the majority, more than 60 percent, are Muslim. About 47 percent live below the poverty line. One in five faces food insecurity.
Also, people at any sign of unrest in neighboring countries flee into Burkina Faso, a country that already faces a food crisis, said Malinowski.
The Helping Hands program knits together both needed food and education in economic development. Each meal costs 50 cents to make, with about half of the cost for the food and the other half to pay for educational programs to lift people out of poverty. Starve Wars T-shirts were sold to help raise some of the funds.
Bread of Christ feeds concern for hungry
“It’s a way to connect with our brothers and sisters in Burkina Faso who are suffering from hunger. Not only to connect with them but to serve them as our faith calls us to serve in the example of Jesus Christ,” said Malinowski.
As part of the Eucharistic Congress, Catholics quickly tied together the Eucharist and service to others.
Malinowski said, “Pope Francis has this great quote: ‘Those who are nourished by the bread of Christ in the Eucharist cannot remain indifferent to those who do not have their daily bread.’ That sums it up so well. The Eucharist is a meal. It is a meal where we are nourished by Christ’s love, and we are supposed to do something with that, we are supposed to go out into the world and love others and nourish others as we’ve been nourished. The Eucharist is why we do this.”
“It’s incredible. You are feeding people who are having a difficult time feeding themselves. You are reaching people you are never going to meet. I think that’s real special,” said Michael Mead, who worships at St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell.
“If you put food in their stomachs, they can think, they can build, they can cook, they can feed their family, and once they start thinking, they can think for themselves, whether it’s building roads, feeding their family, a whole range of things—just living.”
The Gant family, who attends the Church of the Good Shepherd, Cumming, spent the second meal-packing shift together. The teenaged twins joined parents Melba and Toby Gant for their first Eucharistic Congress.
Toby Gant said his experience in 2015 at the Eucharistic Congress enriched his faith so this year he wanted his family to participate. They got a hotel room nearby for the weekend to be there for Starve Wars and the daylong congress.
“It does tie everything together,” said Gant. “It’s a way to do what we should be doing—helping others. I hope they continue.”