Sorting food items and helping clients with food selections were among the tasks the young adult volunteers performed.
Sorting food items and helping clients with food selections were among the tasks the young adult volunteers performed.
"There’s only so many times you can go out to dinner or go to the movies [and] we were looking for a service project that we could do together,“ Maria Starcher, 25, said as she and her boyfriend, Stephen Puccio, 30, worked on creating a community garden at Seeds of Service in Brick.

“We were looking for charitable organizations and things we could do to give back,” Puccio said in between shoveling piles of dirt.  “[Service and Social] seemed like a great opportunity and it lived up to its expectations.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Social and Service

Starcher, a resident of Hunterdon County, and Puccio, a parishioner of St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, were among the dozen or so young adults from around the Diocese who participated in “Service and Social,” a daylong event held June 12 at Seeds of Service, an outreach agency that operates 28 programs to assist clients in Ocean County and beyond. The experience offered participants an opportunity to meet with other like-minded young adults while they put their faith in to action.

Throughout the day, the participants performed several tasks such as sorting the food items in the food pantry and creating a “farmer’s market style” shopping experience for the Seeds of Service clients seeking assistance. Another task the young adult volunteers performed was tending to the organization’s community garden and erecting a chicken wire fence to keep the area and future plants protected.

Several of the young adults remarked on how they appreciated the chance to interact with the clients while helping them select their foods and load their purchases into their cars.

“What struck me the most was the importance of maintaining the dignity of the people who come here for help. That’s crucial,” said Micaela Hickey, 23, a member of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford.

Maura Cahill, 23, a member of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, said she had been involved in community service as a college student. And now that she has graduated, she was happy to find an organization where she could continue to do outreach where “we can work toward a shared goal.”

As she observed the volunteers, Christie Winters, executive director of Seeds of Service, spoke of how pleased she was to have the young adults help out on the first day that the food pantry reopened for in-person visits since the onset of the pandemic. Before June 12, the clients were able to pick up their food orders. She noted that prior to the pandemic, the food pantry had served between 400 and 500 families. But that number increased to 1,200 families because of the impact the pandemic had on the economy and the clients’ livelihoods.

Dan Waddington, director of the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, which organized the “Service and Social,” commented on how the event provided the young adults with a “wonderful mix” of work and prayer.

“It was great to support the mission here, and to come face to face with those we are serving really made the day special,” he said, noting that the group wrapped up their Service and Social experience by attending the 4 p.m. Mass in adjacent Visitation Church and then enjoying an evening complete with food and fellowship.

“It was a blessed day,” Waddington said.