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Feeding our bodies and our souls

A volunteer gives out grocery boxes during a Catholic Charities food distribution in August 2021 outside St. Bernard Church in Riverdale Park, Maryland. (Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities)

Coming from a big family, I always enjoyed dinners with my siblings and parents. At times, all 15 of us would be seated around the table, and it wasn’t just the food we enjoyed. It was also being together, enjoying each other’s company, and sometimes even discussing difficult issues.

I believe that a good bit of my faith experience came from those family dinners, where we also prayed at least one decade of the rosary after the meal was finished. Other activities at the dinner table also tied in the gift of our faith. For example, we had an Advent wreath every year, and it was always a thrill to be the one to light the candles or recite the prayers.

These were simple but important things we did as a family that allowed our meals and our faith to come together. We saw that the Eucharist is lived in the domestic church, our homes.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas, family meals are on our minds. I’m sure many of you amazing cooks are looking forward to celebrating the wonder of the holidays with family and friends, big meals and a chance to enjoy the gifts of food and fellowship.

God created us to need food to survive. Most of us don’t have to worry about having enough, but did you know that 11 percent of people in Washington, D.C., are “food deprived” at least part of the year? It is much the same in Montgomery County, where 10 percent do not have the food they need to survive. I suspect you are as shocked by those numbers as I am.

Going to bed hungry and malnourished is an all too real and all too frequent experience for too many people. I can honestly say that I have never experienced true hunger like that, of not being able to afford or find the food you need to sustain yourself.

When I was at Blessed Sacrament parish, I heard that some people who lived in the nearby apartments on Connecticut Avenue ate dog food to survive. During a time when the economy struggled, they could not afford to pay rent, buy medicines and eat regular food. It should shock us and shame us that there are such big numbers of people in our midst just barely getting by.

We can do something about this. Will you join me?

We are just beginning our annual Catholic Charities Virtual Food Drive. It is virtual because rather than asking for canned or boxed food itself, we are asking for financial support that will allow our agency to give food to those in need. We can use these resources not just now but also over the coming months to put food in people’s homes and on their tables each and every day.

This is a great opportunity for all of us to work together to help address a critical food shortage and make sure our neighbors have enough to eat. The money donated should last well past the holidays, when charitable giving is more plentiful. So many people are overwhelmingly generous during the holidays in providing food, gifts and services to those in need. From January through summer and into the fall, that support typically lessens, and strong support for the Virtual Food Drive could help us spread the love, charity and food distribution throughout a bigger part of the year.

The need has increased dramatically since the start of COVID-19. I was shocked when I learned Catholic Charities served 5.4 million meals in fiscal year 2021. Frankly, I hadn’t expected such a large number, but the number is real, and so is the hunger. I am sad that hunger has risen so much, but I am pleased that we have been able to work with you to help others receive the food they need.

To give you an idea of how much your support helps, people coming to our various community pop-ups (temporary food distribution sites, often in parishes) to receive food usually walk away with a home cooked meal for that night as well as produce, proteins and staples that should last about five days. In effect, people take about 20 meals with them as they leave these various sites, all supported by volunteers, financial contributions from you, and our staff members who bring it all together.

I also want to make you aware of a program we have called KitchenWork, in which we try to help people learn about food preparation and distribution with the goal of finding them jobs outside of Catholic Charities. The work and training in the kitchen might provide a career path for individuals to find their way. I’m told restaurants and the hospitality industry are in desperate need of workers in the wake of COVID. I hope KitchenWork can be part of the solution, helping people take important steps toward permanent and successful jobs.

During the holiday season, as we enjoy our meals, eat plentifully and celebrate special days with loved ones, may we also remember those who do not have the basics that we enjoy without thinking about them. Chances are that even more people than usual will not be able to have the type of holiday meal they want or are used to this year. Food prices are up, making it more expensive to feed your family than it has been in some time.

This year, an anonymous donor is providing a $25,000 match. So, for every $1 given to the Virtual Food Drive, a match of $1 is made, up to $25,000. This generosity allows us to serve even more meals.

If you are able, I hope you will help us be part of the solution by contributing financially and volunteering your time. Maybe your children and grandchildren would be willing to join you in donating even a small amount of money. You can find all the details on our website, . Any support is greatly appreciated by us and, especially, by those in need.

Together, we can help those who are truly hungry find sustenance, support and love. We directly fulfill Jesus’s command to feed the hungry. We can alleviate hunger not just in stomachs but also in hearts. In doing so, all of our souls will be nourished by the Bread of Life Himself.

(Msgr. Enzler is the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.)