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St. Bernadette Church tries to end hunger with a can a week

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Once a month, David Campbell purchases four cases of canned chicken at Costco. Each time at checkout, someone asks why he’s buying so much, and an opportunity arises for supermarket evangelization.

The conversations aren’t long, said Campbell, but they create an opportunity to speak about the parish “Can-a-Week” program, which donates 1,000 cans of food each week to help stock the Ecumenical Community Helping Others (ECHO) warehouse in Springfield. This averages from 100 to 115 bags a week.

Campbell, a parishioner of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield, is a public school teacher. He donates the first hour of his tutoring fees each week to buy the food. He teaches a Bible study class at the parish and the “Can-a-Week” project came out of the group wanting to do more.

“Our goal at the start was for our parish to donate 1,000 cans a week,” he said. “It took us a year or two, but we hit that mark most weeks now and are planning to increase that goal to 2,000 cans a week. Hopefully we can reach that target in another year or two.”

The program has grown over the years, from a few bags of food donated in the beginning to 38,130 bags in 2016 and 43,792 bags in 2017.

The canned goods are collected on Sundays in the vestibule. Volunteers come 15 minutes before Mass and stay for around 15 minutes after Mass to assist in the collection. A team of volunteers then breaks the donations into bags for pickup Monday morning. After the Monday morning Mass, parishioners and students take the bags to waiting cars that deliver the food to the warehouse.

Tom Nally, “Can-a-Week” team captain, said two to five volunteers are available before and after each Sunday Mass to collect food and spread the word about the program by handing out bookmarks.

Nally credits the surge in donations to the increased visibility and constant reminder of the program. “People keep bringing in a can each week once they get used to it,” he said.

Parishioners are bringing in personal hygiene items, paper towels and toilet paper, in addition to the canned goods.

Nally hopes the effort spreads to other area parishes. “It is a hands-on way of doing a corporal work of mercy,” he said. 

Find out more

Contact Tom Nally at nally1000@cox.net.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018