Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Cristina Cabrera Jarro
MIAMI | Thousands of people in the impoverished nation of Burkina Faso will be receiving a nutritious meal soon thanks to more than 100 students and volunteers from nearly half a dozen Catholic schools.
The meal packs — containing vitamin, soy protein powder, dehydrated vegetables and rice — are the staple of Catholic Relief Services’ Helping Hands program. Helping Hands brings volunteers together to prepare and pack meals for the impoverished African nation, which also endures droughts and floods.
The March 24 event, coinciding with the start of Holy Week, was hosted by Christopher Columbus High School in Miami. Over 100 students and volunteers from across the community packed over 32,000 meals. Participants came from Columbus, Belen Jesuit Preparatory, Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, Immaculata-La Salle High School and more.
“This literally is our first year not only hosting, but also participating,” said Columbus Principal David Pugh. “The most important thing is the camaraderie, the reason this brings us all together.”
Belen has hosted the event before in collaboration with the Knights of Columbus, who initially hosted one in 2014 where they packed 12,000 meals.
“When they hit the 25,000th meal packed today, they will mark 100,000 meals overall since we first started packing meals four years ago,” said Crescencio Ruiz, vice president of the Belen Jesuit Alumni Board. Ruiz pointed out that CRS meal packing events were happening simultaneously that day throughout Florida: with the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, and farther south in Miami at Our Lady of Lourdes School and Parish in Kendall.
“Our idea is to bring people together to do something for a place like Burkina Faso, especially during Lent,” said Ana Gloria Rivas Vazquez, regional development director for CRS. “We wanted to bring as many Catholic communities together, whether it’s the students from the high schools, service organizations like the Knights and also the alumni groups.”
Tim van Hemert, a Columbus parent, said the event is ideal for families. His son, Marcel, had raised funds in 2016 to help Syrian refugees and been named a Golden Knight Scholar Athlete by the archdiocese for his efforts.
“This is an opportunity to express our faith through action and it’s a good example for (students) to see at a young age that they can participate like this,” said van Hemert.
CRS staff start off the Helping Hands day by setting out an assembly line of sorts: various tables lined with bins containing the different ingredients. These later get funneled into plastic bags that are slightly larger than Ziploc sandwich bags. The bags are handed off to a weigh-in station where rice is added or removed to make the right weight. Then they are passed on to a sealing station to be closed, to a boxing station, and finally stacked on a palette and prepped for shipping.
The process sounds simple and orderly. But when volunteers pick up a rhythm, they also pick up speed, and in the case of friendly rivalry, things get competitive.
“We’re going to rotate at some point,” said Jack Lopez, a sixth grader from Belen, as he opened the bags and inserted vitamin packs.
“He’s going too fast,” said Daniel Diez, also a sixth grader from Belen, who was peeling and labeling the bags.
“They’re all so determined,” said Brianna Muñoz, a sophomore at Lourdes Academy who worked at the sealing station. “But we’re all trying to reach the same goal.”
Before the start of the event, Father Alejandro Rodriguez Artola, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Miami and a Columbus alumnus, celebrated Mass at the high school’s Lawrence Bell Theater. He reminded participants they needed to have the proper mindset to feed and help the people of Burkina Faso.
“Our gesture today may be a fun one, but when you start to work, understand that what you’re doing is a prayer,” Father Rodriguez Artola said. “Understand that that almsgiving that is spoken of in this Lenten season is what you’re experiencing and practicing and that this gesture is much bigger than you can really understand or comprehend. Make sure that you are offering it up to the Lord, and to no one else. That the glory be his.”