‘Performing corporal works of mercy’

First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
Previous Next

At the end of February, Dan Foos and his family took a weekday off to carry a hundred boxes of donated food from Christ House's basement in Alexandria to a borrowed trailer. After loading the 40-pound boxes, the Fooses drove to a pantry in Front Royal, where the boxes will be distributed to pantries in the outlying areas of the Arlington Diocese.

The family is part of a network of volunteer drivers for Christ House on Wheels, known as CHOW, a Catholic Charities program that delivers nonperishable food to parishes and rural pantries that are unable to meet their local needs.

Dan and his wife, Sarah, do this once a month to show their nine children that "performing corporal works of mercy is part of being Catholic.

"It's not just going to church on Sunday or putting money in the basket, you actually have to go and do things," Dan Foos said.

Among all the volunteer drivers, they deliver food to the poor in the 21 counties that are part of the diocese.

Sherri Longhill, director of Catholic Charities Emergency Assistance program and Christ House on Wheels, said the program serves to quench an overwhelming need for assistance in the diocese.

"We serve the disabled, senior citizens who are on fixed incomes - actually our biggest number of participants comes from senior citizens using the food pantries to help them stretch their budgets, and single mothers," Longhill said. "Loaves and Fishes (pantry in Front Royal), for example, feeds an average of 2,600 individuals a month - and they only are open 10 hours a week."

Usually CHOW boxes contain pasta, peanut butter, rice, beans and vegetables. Each pantry distributes the food according to the needs of its participants.

Longhill said the Gospel of Matthew guides this outreach program as volunteers try to serve families and individuals living in poverty and food insecurity, meaning that they cannot make ends meet and are forced to go without food for several meals. According to Catholic Charities, one in 10 individuals in the diocese is food insecure.

Volunteers at CHOW's hub in Alexandria help by sorting food donations on shelves and packing boxes to send them to other depots like Catholic Charities Western Regional Office in Leesburg and the Loaves and Fishes pantry. The pantries use some of that food to restock their shelves, but most CHOW boxes will travel further to rural pantries in places like Rappahannock, Luray and Spotsylvania.

Dan and Sarah, who are parishioners of Our Lady of Angels Church in Woodbridge, first became involved with CHOW four years ago through a request at an event hosted by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde. Dan Foos recalled that the head of Catholic Charities said they needed a 15-passenger van to deliver food to where it was most needed.

"We had one. I could not give (the van) out but I could use it," he said. "We decided to volunteer as a family."

The family's delivery route usually includes Front Royal, but they have taken food as far as Colonial Beach and Fredericksburg. Usually members of the Knights of Columbus take the donations from the depots to outlying churches and pantries.

Though the Fooses mostly interact with other volunteers during their deliveries, sometimes they talk to the people who come to get food.

"I like to see how people are actually receiving the food that we are bringing," said Lisa Foos, 17. "We see that we are actually helping people, we are not just moving boxes."

According to Longhill, the program has delivered more than 100,000 pounds of food from September to December. "We expect at least 250,000 by the end of the year," she said.

Since its creation in 2007, the CHOW program has grown from delivering food with one volunteer and a donated van to hundreds of people helping to pack and transport food.

"I think people just don't think that there is food insecurity in our area, and once you let them know they really reach out to help," Longhill said. "Evangelization occurs through volunteers, through action."

Negro can be reached at mnegro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @MNegroACH.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014