By Rose O'Connor | Correspondent
Cooperation was at the heart of service when youth ministers and teens from Mercer County parishes joined to serve the hungry July 23 at The Lord’s Table, a program held once a month in Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton, that provides a meal and fellowship to those in need.
Representing the parishes of St. Vincent de Paul, Yardville; St. Paul Parish, Princeton; St. Gregory the Great, Hamilton Square; St. Anthony of Padua, Hightstown, and St. Ann, Lawrenceville, the day of service was the first time the youth groups in the area joined together.
Photo Gallery: Mercer County’s youth serve meals in Sacred Heart Parish
“I’m grateful to the youth ministers who lead by example and who brought the youth to do this work. I am thankful to their pastors and know how supportive they are of their youth ministry programs,” Father Dennis Apoldite, pastor of Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy Parishes, Trenton, said as he surveyed teens serving, cleaning and greeting the more than 170 guests who gathered in the parish hall. “It’s great to get the Mercer County groups together. They all get along and work well together.”
Mary Ann Rocosta, St. Ann Parish youth ministry coordinator, and Peg Kowalski, who assists with several outreach ministries in St. Gregory the Great Parish, were pleased with the level of cooperation among youth.
“We’ve had a great turnout,” Rocosta said.
Kowalski explained that there were about 25 youth volunteers along with some adults. The volunteers purchased the food and the adults cooked.
“This is a really great group of kids. They don’t all go to the same schools, so it’s great to see them work together,” she said.
The idea for a countywide service learning project stemmed from a meeting with the diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.
“In an earlier meeting, the Mercer County youth ministers identified that if each parish invested in the event and brought five or six volunteers, we would well exceed the need of volunteers to successfully staff the event,” said Kait Mayer, youth ministry coordinator in St. Paul Parish.
“It’s important to see the needs of the community and to help them,” noted Dave Doran, youth ministry leader in St. Gregory the Great Parish.
The Lord’s Table, while facilitated by Sacred Heart, is often staffed by different organizations each month. Loretta Hovaneck, coordinator of The Lord’s Table, explained that along with the volunteers from the Diocese’s parishes, both Presbyterian and Jewish congregations serve and staff the parish outreach.
“This is about reaching out and letting the people know we really care about them,” Hovaneck said.
Youth volunteers Maria Elena Fiordelisi, 16, and Zach Klein, 15, both of St. Paul Parish, were touched by the guests’ response to receiving the food.
“They were very grateful,” Klein said as he and Fiordelisi served hamburgers, salad and cookies.
“I heard a mom tell her daughter not to eat it all, to save some for later,” Fiordelisi said. “They are so thankful for this and even said, ‘Thank you for your time.’ I am so glad there are programs like this to help them.”
Added Karina Arce of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, “The people are happy and that makes me happy.”
Having the teens serve was what youth minister Matt Kraemer, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, wanted to see. “This work – working hands-on with people who need help – is so important. I want them to experience the joy and happiness that comes with helping others.”
One of the students in Kraemer’s youth program, Mark Vinicombe, 15, saw just that as he and his peers gathered Sunday afternoon.
“We are seeing people who may be really poor. It’s important to not only help physically by giving them food and drink, but also to let them know that we are here to pray for them as well,” Vinicombe said.
Rooted in Scripture
Father Charles Muorah, recently appointed parochial vicar in Sacred Heart Parish, had never witnessed The Lord’s Table ministry and was impressed with not only the program itself, but the teens who served their fellow brothers and sisters.
Speaking of the Gospel and the parable of the sower, Father Muorah was reflective as he saw the youth and their leaders interact with those affected by poverty. “They are sowing the seeds of the Gospel. We may not be able to destroy the seeds of poverty, but good is always greater than evil.”
After the meals were served and the guests filtered out of Sacred Heart Hall, saying their goodbyes, the students and their leaders quickly sprang into action once again, cleaning the floors and tables.
“Overall, the day was a huge success,” Mayer said. “It was so amazing to see the teens interact with one another. Our primary goal with this event was to get the teens to meet teens from other parishes, so we were so glad they very readily mixed and mingled with one another.
“After talking with some of my teens following lunch service, it was also very evident that they really benefited from this day of direct service. It’s so rewarding for them to connect with those they’re serving so they have some understanding of the impact their efforts are making,” she said.