When our community comes together, amazing things happen at Saint John! Nearly 350 people filled our Ballroom on August 10 to support our second annual Catholic Relief Services Helping Hands Event. We had a goal to double the meals we packed last year, 20,000, to an astonishing 40,000 meals. The 350 volunteers were made up of every part of our Parish Family, young and old alike. They also brought their friends and family with them: members of other faith groups, neighborhoods, and even sports teams. Truly, it was an inspiration to see the entire Naples area come together to serve.
Father John, our Pastor, led us in the CRS Prayer for our effort and for those without food we would be serving. We got right into the instructions for the double-sized food packing lines. Everyone was able to find a job to do, from filling the bags with rice, protein, vegetables, and vitamins, to weighing each bag to ensure it had enough food to feed 6 people, to sealing the bags for transportation around the world, to finally packing the bags into boxes for their travel to Africa. Additional volunteers ran food or the bags around from station to station. It was a caotic and beautiful experience to see so many people dedicated to our mission.
We were also blessed to have images from Father Doll around the Ballroom. Father Doll is a priest photographer who has supported the Jesuit Refugee Services with his artistic gifts by traveling to various refugee camps and capturing the plight of those attempting to live in conditions that are almost unlivable. These pictures gave a direct face to all our volunteers, and certainly spurred them on. Additionally, when we informed the volunteers that the food we were packing was going to Burkina Faso, a West African nation, a wonderful woman who came with her friend raised her hand, saying she was from that country and was overcome with joy that our efforts would help her native land.
With all the love and joy that was being spread in the room and everyone working tirelessly, we were able to fill and pack food for 40,000 people in just 1 hour and 3 minutes! The final gong went off and all the volunteers, exhausted from their hard work, cheered and shouted. A final blessing came to us all as New York Pizza and Pasta donated 50 pizzas to our volunteers to feed them after they had fed so many.
I want to thank every single person, from the staff that assisted with the setup and logistics from both SJE, CRS, and Rise Against Hunger (the organization that builds these meal programs), to the dedication of our 350 volunteers who made this program so tremendously successful, to all those who were not able to make it to the church, but sent their prayers for our success. The below pictures say a million words of how powerful and impactful this program is for both the volunteers and those we served.