Volunteers described it as a joyful, uplifting Lenten project that fed the hungry, put their faith into action and brought them closer together — all in one morning.
More than 200 members of the parishes of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bellevue, Sacred Heart in Emsworth and St. John Neumann in Franklin Park — using the interim name of Bellworth Park Catholic Community — joined hands April 6 to pack more than 20,000 meals to be shipped overseas.
Together the parishes raised more than $10,000 to pay for the rice, soy, dried vegetables and vitamins supplied by Rise Against Hunger, an international hunger relief organization. The donations also will support two sustainability projects in Burkina Faso, a West African nation where 40 percent of infant deaths are attributed to malnutrition and just 11 percent of children under age 2 have enough to eat.
Before packing the meals, volunteers spent time in prayer and watched a short video explaining where the food was going and the difficulties facing poor people in developing countries.
Other parishes across the diocese have undertaken similar service projects.
“We felt good about making a difference,” said Sacred Heart parishioner Judy Konitsney, who along with husband Chet helped out as music played and a bell rang each time another 2,000 bags were filled.
“People from different parishes worked together, everyone was so friendly,” she said.
Father John Bachkay, administrator of the parishes, said one volunteer told him, “Father, I felt like I was personally handing a bowl of food to someone who was hungry.”
“We’re following the Gospel teaching, feeding the multitudes like Jesus,” Father Bachkay said.
Gary Fritsch, director of outreach and evangelization at St. John Neumann Parish, said the effort was part of their Lenten theme, “Put on Christ.” He used the event to challenge members of all three parishes to look beyond their own churches.
“When we stop focusing on our own problems and start seeing how we can help others, then we’ll truly see Christ in one another and get to know each other that way,” he said.
Lee Sweeney of Assumption Parish volunteered with his daughter, Lucy, who brought members of her softball team at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School in Moon Township.
“It makes you put your blessings in perspective,” he said, “and it was a magnificent opportunity for fellowship.”
Holly and Chris Kikel of St. John Neumann Parish volunteered with their son, Andrew, 7, and daughter Olivia, 5.
“We always look for opportunities to show our kids that it’s important to give back and help those in need,” Holly said.
“It was a positive and rewarding experience,” Chris added. “We look forward to participating again.”