KDCCW hosts meal-packing event to provide food for people in the nations of Haiti and Guatemala
By Emily Booker
“Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat’” (Matthew 14:16).
With one boy’s offering of five loaves and two fish, Christ was able to feed the multitude of 5,000. With hundreds of donors and volunteers throughout the Diocese of Knoxville, Christ’s Church was able to feed 50,000. On Saturday, March 26, the Knoxville Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (KDCCW) hosted a meal-packing event for Cross Catholic Outreach, preparing 50,000 meals to go to the hungry in Haiti and Guatemala.
Last fall, the KDCCW leadership was looking for a service project in which the entire diocese could participate. Around that same time, Patty Johnson, who coordinated the project, received a phone call from June Lawrence, the Cross Catholic Outreach development officer for Tennessee.
“She said to me, ‘The children in Haiti are starving,’” Mrs. Johnson recalled.
The National Council of Catholic Women had partnered with Cross Catholic Outreach since 2010, so Ms. Lawrence knew that Mrs. Johnson, who previously served as president of the National Council of Catholic Women, and the KDCCW board would be willing to help.
Approximately 815 million people around the world, many of them children, are suffering from malnutrition. Inadequate nutrition is one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of 5. The sad reality is that globally there is enough food to feed everyone, but economics, politics, and logistics of availability and distribution keep millions from regular access to healthy meals. Cross Catholic’s food program aims to cut through those barriers.
“This is one of our biggest projects right now because food is such a need all throughout developing countries,” Ms. Lawrence said. She attended the March 26 event to oversee the process and answer any questions people might have.
Cross Catholic Outreach’s mission is “to mobilize the global Catholic Church to transform the poor and their communities materially and spiritually for the glory of Jesus Christ.” Its programs bring food, water, housing, medical care, education, and disaster relief to those most in need around the world.
Cross Catholic Outreach’s meal-packing ministry pairs Catholic ministries in the United States and developing countries to get thousands of healthy meals to people quickly. The ministries in the United States raise the money to buy the food in bulk and pack the food into individualized meals. By buying in bulk and dividing it here, the meals offer a balanced, nutrient-rich diet for as low as 33 cents a meal. Ministries in the developing countries then oversee distribution of the individually packed meals to children and families in need in their area. Cross Catholic Outreach handles the logistics of finding ministries, ordering food, and shipping the meals internationally.
“We are partnering with Catholic ministries in the developing world that are great but need resources. So, we link the two. We’re all part of the same body. It’s just that God has given strengths on either side. We get together to get those developing countries on their way to being who they can be,” Ms. Lawrence said.
Many of the meals go to children through schools and orphanages. With proper nutrition, children do better in school and have fewer ongoing health issues, which gives them a stronger foundation for the rest of their lives.
The first step for any parish or organization holding a meal-packing event is the fundraising.
Many Diocese of Knoxville parishes were already familiar with the work of Cross Catholic Outreach through its Box of Joy program, which sends children in developing countries a gift box filled with toys, clothing, school supplies, and a rosary. It is a popular annual service among many parishes in the diocese. So, when the call came to partner with Cross Catholic Outreach to send meals, the response was enthusiastic.
KDCCW president Susan Collins was thrilled by the generous response from parish CCWs and individuals for the meal-packing project.
“It takes quite a bit of money to purchase the food and things,” Mrs. Collins said. “But the money came in above and beyond. Originally, we were going to do 40,000 [meals], and we ended up with 50,000. It’s been great. The support’s been great all over the diocese.”
KDCCW raised around $18,000, enough for 50,000 meals, with enough leftover to make a $1,300 donation to Catholic Relief Services’ Water for Life, which provides people access to clean water.
Mrs. Johnson agreed with Mrs. Collins.
“Our goal was to raise $13,500, but we raised more than that,” Mrs. Johnson said. “When we met our goal and exceeded it, I asked June what the next increment was. We raised $16,500 for 50,000 meals. We had a lot of individual donations. We had donations for organizations. We received donations from every deanery.”
The next step was finding a space large enough to pack 50,000 meals. The cathedral hall at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus served that purpose. Rows of tables were set up throughout the hall for teams of 10 to 12 volunteers to form assembly lines and pack the food into meal packages and the packages into boxes.
The bulk order of food arrived on March 24. On March 26, the volunteers packed the meals, and by March 28, the meals were on their way to Cross Catholic Outreach headquarters in Florida, where they would be quickly shipped out to ministries in Haiti and Guatemala.
Joan Rowe, volunteer coordinator for KDCCW, said that interest in helping with this project was high. More than 120 people signed up to volunteer, but on the day of the event, even more people showed up wanting to help.
“We’ve really had a good turnout from all over,” Ms. Rowe said. “People have really stepped up.”
More than 150 volunteers spent the morning packing meals.
Teams followed a specific order to make sure each meal got the right amount of food: first was an enclosed pack of vitamins, followed by soy, beans, dehydrated vegetables, and rice. The amount of each ingredient was weighed out, and at the end of the assembly line, the bag was weighed again. Any needed adjustments were made, and then the bag was sealed and labeled.
The meals are designed to meet the needs of the malnourished, especially children, and provide an optimal balance of vitamins, protein, fiber, and carbohydrates. Once they arrive at their destination, they can be prepared with spices or include additional ingredients to suit local tastes.
The volunteers enjoyed friendly competition between teams as they packed the meals. When the first pallet of boxes was completed, representing about 11,000 meals, there was an announcement, and a cheer went up among the volunteers.
Members of the Knights of Columbus at St. John XXIII University Parish offered to do the heavy-lifting—sorting the large sacks of bulk food and moving the pallets of boxes ready to ship. Many hands made the event go smoothly and swiftly.
“This is my first time being involved in [a meal packing project], so this was all new to me. But I just think it’s great,” Ms. Rowe said. “Everybody who showed up has really enjoyed it, and it’s a lot of fun. It really brings everybody together. I think it’s great.”
For Mrs. Johnson, it was the perfect service project for Lent.
“We’re trying to make our Lent more meaningful by helping to feed 50,000 of the poorest children in the world. And we’re doing that through the packing of the meals,” Mrs. Johnson said.
She reflected how the war in Ukraine was rightfully getting a lot of attention and aid, but that people in other countries and situations are still struggling, too. It’s important to see the needs of everyone and to help where we can.
“Some people have said to me, ‘Why this instead of Ukraine?’ Well, we planned this well before anything started in Ukraine, and these people are just as needy as those in Ukraine,” Mrs. Johnson said.
“Ukraine is garnering a lot of contributions right now. So, I still feel good that we’re doing it for these people. It’s just a really beautiful opportunity I think to do what Christ has asked us to do.
“We all know when he said, ‘When I was hungry, you gave me food.’ We try to keep that in mind.”
Thanks to the efforts of donors and volunteers in the Diocese of Knoxville, 50,000 people with full bellies will remember that, too.
You can learn more about the work of Cross Catholic Outreach at www.crosscatholic.org.