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Children pack meals at St. Ann Church in Arlington to feed hungry children

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The tables in one corner of St. Ann’s parish hall were strewn with plastic sandwich bags, mini boxes of raisins, bags of crackers, fruit juices and peanut butter containers Aug. 11. On the other end of the hall sat Vacation Bible School students finishing their own snacks, some still hungry and asking for more.

They were about to complete a task that put hunger in perspective.

“The kids start to see that faith formation entails getting to know not only Christ, but their neighbor." Art Bennett, president and CEO of Catholic Charities

Amy Strickland, director of faith formation at St. Ann, reminded the children that there are others who do not have the luxury of getting breakfast or lunch.

For children relying on meal assistance during the school year, the summer can mean difficulty getting enough to eat. The Bible school students worked to help ease that hunger by packing meals for the diocesan Catholic Charities “Children Feeding Children” program, which began last year.

The kindergarten through fifth-grade students spent the week working in the parish community garden. “The children understand that the food is going to the poor,” said Strickland. “We hope (they) will come to understand that they are not too little to make a difference in others’ lives.”

Strickland said parishioners have been generous in donating food for the lunch-packing effort. “We thought making lunches for other children would be a powerful message,” said Strickland.

Rose Schoshinski, a freshman at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory High School in Washington, volunteers at the Vacation Bible School. “Some of the kids were shocked to hear that some kids do not get three meals a day and do not have the privilege of getting food any time they want it,” she said.

Parishes can participate in the program by giving youths a blue bag with a list of food to purchase and return. Or they can hold an event to pack breakfast and lunch items in a plastic bag to bring back for distribution later. The food is taken to the Manassas warehouse of the St. Lucy Project, Catholic Charities’ food distribution network, and then distributed throughout the 6,500-square-mile diocese as needed.

Art Bennett, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, said helping youths get access to food energizes both the children and parents. “One of the things that make people the saddest is thinking of kids not having food,” he said. “The kids start to see that faith formation entails getting to know not only Christ, but their neighbor.”

Patricia Kuntz, parish outreach specialist for the St. Lucy Project, said other vacation Bible schools and work camps contributed to their summer food collection this year.

Summer is one of the most critical times for the food insecure, according to Kuntz. Asking children to participate in this program increases their awareness and builds compassion.

“For the children, they talk about hunger and start realizing there are children out there not getting lunch,” she said. “So many times we are blind to the food insecure.”

After the bags were packed, Kuntz asked the children to put their hands on their head if they ate breakfast today. “By doing what you did, you are going to give breakfast or lunch to other children,” she said.  “I think we have well over 100 bags for the children.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017