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Faith fuels the charity work at Mother of Light Center in Alexandria

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The small Alexandria warehouse that houses the Mother of Light Center is packed with shelves of dry goods, boxes of fresh vegetables and walls decked out with religious art. Separated from the food-packing frenzy by curtains is the Visitation Chapel — a tabernacle, altar, crucifix and statue of Our Lady tucked in a corner. The juxtaposition of food donations and devotional items is an apt representation of the mission: to serve the poor and work for the salvation of souls.


The Mother of Light Center, founded in 2019 by Catholics, provides for the needy in the Alexandria area. Distributing food is a big part of their work. On a recent morning, volunteers filled bags with beans, cooking oil, juice, eggs, cheese and eggplants. Much of the food is provided by the Capital Area Food Bank, with additional donations from Target, Lidl and Panera Bread. Flowers from Trader Joe’s adorn the statues around the warehouse. Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria drops off items every other week and other parishes often donate food and personal care items, too.


Once they're finished packing, the volunteers load the 45-pound bags into the Mother of Light van. “You don't need the gym if you're here,” said Bonnie Marcil, a volunteer and parishioner of St. Rita Church in Alexandria. Both Marcil and her fellow volunteer, Marian Reig, say they see God working through the center. “I am living in a constant miracle here,” said Reig, a parishioner of the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria.


Marcil said a woman pulled up to the center saying she needed a baby crib, a mattress and baby things. While she was in the parking lot, another woman pulled in with a crib and mattress and other baby items to donate. “It was just transferred from one vehicle to another in our parking lot,” she said. “These things happen all the time. It’s a very special place.”


The center does much more than deliver food to 800 families every two weeks. It hosts outreach markets, allowing residents of low-income neighborhoods to pick up assorted food and household items. Used clothing is available. Volunteers bring meals to Bailey’s Shelter and Supportive Housing in Falls Church and food and supplies to day laborers twice a month in Arlington and Annandale. They facilitate the St. Anne Single Mothers Group that meets at St. Rita and this month, they’re piloting a sewing school program for five women.


Down the street at St. Rita, children of Mother of Light clients play a heated soccer game on the parish blacktop. The summer camp, called Reach for the Stars, is a joint project between the parish, the center and students at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School in Alexandria.


Danielle Pascale, a rising junior, started the camp, which she hopes will turn into an after-school program in the fall. Pascale and fellow student volunteers start the afternoon with a prayer, and then lead the children in stretching and breathing, art and crafts, reading and exercise.


“There are a lot of studies done that show those activities are the most stress-reducing,” said Pascale, who noted that kids facing housing or financial instability often face a good deal of stress. “These activities help them not only grow as a person but then when they get into a classroom, they can use a lot of skills that they’re learning here.”


The numerous programs and initiatives at the Mother of Light Center are bound together by faith, said Matilde Alvarado, director. “The visitation is our (inspiration), because Mary goes in haste but with mission — to acknowledge the needs of others, to love others, to see the face of Jesus in others,” she said.


Each first Friday of the month, volunteers gather at the center to pray all the mysteries of the rosary. Then a priest, usually Father Paul Bergout, who serves in the diocesan tribunal, celebrates Mass.


“We need a lot of prayers,” said Alvarado, a parishioner of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church. “We pray for the families, the benefactors and the volunteers and their intentions.”


Alvarado may technically be the center’s director, but she believes Our Lady is the one in charge. “This is the most blessed place ever because it's guided by the Blessed Mother.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021