By Carley Mossbrook
PHILADELPHIA — Rows of tables lined an exhibit hall in the Pennsylvania Convention Center as volunteers scrambled to assemble their families along the room’s perimeter. Tiny hands grabbed for scoops plopped in boxes of rice, while older hands opted for seal-and-pack positions near stacks of cardboard boxes.
Hundreds of volunteers visiting the World Meeting of Families suited up with plastic gloves and hairnets and braced themselves for the work that laid ahead.
And with the strike of a gong, their hands were off. They scooped, poured, sealed, and packed at a pace that pushed them to their goal in just under an hour: to pack 40,000 meals for the hungry.
“The people overseas that are in these dire circumstances know that they are not lost and know that they are not forgotten,” said Sean Callahan, chief operating officer of Catholic Relief Services, said. “And the fact that we show here today that we care about these people will really give them the resilience so that they can keep fighting.”
Helping Hands, a three-day service event led by Catholic Relief Services, will cumulatively provide 200,000 meals to two orphanages in Burkina Faso, said Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of U.S. operations. Volunteers from 32 states in the U.S. have offered an hour of their day to pack the meals of rice, soy and vegetables to send to families suffering from an ongoing drought.
During the one hour session, the energy in the room brought smiles and sweat to the faces of volunteers diligently working among their families, pausing only to belt out the words to “Sweet Caroline” and to share a high-five after completing another box.
Father Brian Kane, the dean at Philadelphia’s St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, cut strips of tape to pack boxes as he and Jacob Sanderson, of Sandy, Utah, chatted over their work.
“It’s really moving to think that what we’re doing here is going to help hungry people in Africa,” Father Kane said. “It’s a great way to show how the Catholic Church is universal and helping people all over the world.”
Christina Bax, a member of the delegation from the Archdiocese of Chicago, said she viewed the event as one of the best ways to connect people to other families through a common goal.
“Events like these are game changers. I’ve been privileged in my life not to go to bed hungry, and I hope that events like this remind these people that they are not forgotten,” she said. “Part of the call of family is learning to be a community of love.”
Thomas Awiapo, a staff member of the Catholic Relief Services, offered words of encouragement to the volunteers. He reflected on memories of his youth in Ghana, where he was orphaned as a small child and survived poverty with the help of CRS providing meals to his school.
He credited CRS for providing him a means to reach higher education, which broke the cycle of hunger for his children.
“The power of just living out of kindness can make a difference,” he said. “As you wrap this food, you’re putting a smile on the face of another child, you are creating life for a child in Burkina Faso.”
Nearly five minutes before they hit the hour mark, the gong was struck once again: this time, to signal they had reached their goal.
Cheers broke out among the glowing faces of volunteers and finally, their hands were put to rest.
Follow Mossbrook on Twitter: @carleymossbrook.