A volunteer carefully seals the prepared packages of food items.
A volunteer carefully seals the prepared packages of food items.
Preparing more than 20,000 meals in less than two hours can be done.

That’s something that 160 volunteers from the three parishes that make up the Catholic Community of Hopewell Valley proved when they participated in a major meal packing event in early December.

The parishes of St. James Parish, Pennington; St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, and St. George Parish, Titusville, had entered a partnership with Rise Against Hunger, where volunteers were challenged to prepare thousands of meals in a given period of time.

The three parishes exceeded their initial goal of making 20,000 meals within two hours and were able to complete 20,304 meals in one hour and 45 minutes.

“This was without hesitation the finest display of parishioners giving of their time on a Sunday afternoon,” said Father Stephen Sansevere, pastor of the three communities.

“This is the true spirit of Christmas and giving to those most in need. I am extremely proud of our parishioners.”

Working Together

With Christmas music playing in the background in the gym of St. James Parish, the volunteers, all wearing plastic gloves, face masks and shower caps, worked in an assembly line fashion to prepare the protein-packed meals to be shipped to schools, hospitals and clinics around the world where there are immediate hunger needs. Rise Against Hunger supplied the dried bulk foods such as rice and beans and dehydrated vegetable blend, while volunteers measured and packed the foods for redistribution. Packets of vitamin powder are also added.

Ryan Ehnts, the area manager for Rise Against Hunger’s Philadelphia region, said while the country where the food from Pennington food will be donated has yet to be determined, countries that Rise Against Hunger assists include the Philippines, Vietnam, Madagascar, South Africa and Uganda. On a positive note, he said that the organization is “phasing out” of Zambia where food needs have stabilized.

“It never gets old to watch people give of their time to help other people they will never meet,” Ehnts said as he observed the Pennington volunteers.

“It’s great that so many came out today,” he said, “and being this is the first time for St. James to participate, they are doing an amazing job,” he said. He added that Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, is another location in in the Trenton Diocese, that participates in the Rise Against Hunger meal prep twice a year.

Meaningful Experience

“It was a great experience for all of us,” said parishioner Dana Dempsey, who volunteered with her husband, Jim, and their three children.

Though her children were hesitant about the project at first, “they really got into it when they heard the mission of Rise Against Hunger and heard how many people they would be helping,” she said. Mrs. Dempsey added, “We were all amazed at how the whole group that was volunteering finished so quickly and also about how many people the bags we put together would be feeding. It’s always a good feeling to help someone out. I think my kids really got that message.”

For Heather Coales, the desire to take part in the Rise Against Hunger project in her parish was fostered by the two-and-a-half years she spent as a Peace Corps volunteer in the upper east region of Ghana in West Africa and the outreach she made to people in need.

“That fell right in line with the work I did in Ghana,” she said. She was also happy to participate in a service project with her 16-year-old son, David, a member of the parish youth group and a Boy Scout,

“We wanted to be part of it,” she said. “We wanted to help.”

Father Sansevere praised the Rise Against Hunger organization for its outstanding work.

“Their goal to eliminate hunger is certainly a daunting task but they showed us just how achievable it is to provide food for thousands from right here in our home parishes and Diocese,” he said, sharing his hope that other parishes [in the Diocese] will pick up the challenge and “rise up against hunger.”

“This was such a positive experience for our people and the RAH organization made it not only a worthy task but an enjoyable afternoon,” Father Sansevere said. “I was so proud of our people but also proud to see so many younger and older parishioners taking part. It seemed like they ranged from 8 to 88 years of age.

“God bless all of our volunteers,” he said. “This is a true Christmas story for all to share.”