St. Matthew's food drive targets 1 million pounds for 10th anniversary
Parish celebrates 'love affair' with Haitians
Pictured: St. Matthew parishioners packaged more than 285,000 meals to feed the hungry at the Charlotte parish's Stop Hunger Now event July 14. The meals will be sent to the Salesians of Don Bosco in Zambia, Africa, to feed children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS. The event was part of St. Matthew's 10th Annual World Food Drive. See more photos http://stmatthewworldfooddrive.shutterfly.com/ (Photos provided by Jenny Cox | Catholic News Herald)
CHARLOTTE — There may be some challenges that come with being one of the largest Catholic churches in the country, but what happens when St. Matthew Church unites its parishioners to tackle a problem like world hunger is nothing short of amazing.
This month, St. Matthew kicked off its 10th Annual World Food Drive with a goal to collect 160,000 pounds of food to reach a total of 1 million pounds donated over the life of the program. It's also aiming for 3,000 volunteer hours that would bring the 10-year total to 10,000.
"It is truly amazing what we can do as a people of faith when we come together for a common purpose," said pastor Monsignor John McSweeney. "It's both a responsibility and a privilege to help our brothers and sisters here at home, our special friends in Haiti and others around the world."
The parish is well on its way to meeting its collection goal with oversized bags of rice, giant jars of peanut butter and various other bulk food items quickly filling space in the Parish Center gymnasium. Soon, it will all be loaded into three 40-foot containers bound for the Missionaries of the Poor in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, where familiar friends will be waiting.
"This is more than a project, it's a relationship; one of love between the people of two cultures," said Joe George, a founding member of St. Matthew Church who started the food drive in 2002 after a mission trip to Haiti. "I wanted to create a love affair between the people of St. Matthew and the people of Haiti, so that enough love and energy would sustain the program for years to come."
And that's just what's happened. In addition to sending food each year, children of the parish have written letters to children of the Missionaries of the Poor's orphanage. St. Matthew families have made placemats decorated with photos and notes for families in Haiti. Groups of parishioners have visited Haiti over the years, and a true friendship has developed.
Mark Creasser participated in the food drive and then took a leadership role with it in 2004. He remembers first traveling to Haiti to deliver food to the brothers.
"Haiti was measuring food by the days ... and many times two weeks at a time," he said. "Being able to give people three meals a day was amazing – just incredible to see the difference it made for the children and the elderly."
Creasser's work with the food drive inspired him to join fellow parishioner Steve Favory and others to create Hands for Haiti (www.handsforhaiti.com), a nonprofit organization that funds The Solidarity School in Tremesse Village, which has educated and fed more than 200 children. Hands for Haiti works together with the people of Tremesse to break the cycle of poverty through education, said Creasser, who currently serves as the organization's board president.
A highlight of the parish food drive again this year was the Stop Hunger Now meal-packaging event on July 14. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the parish gymnasium came alive with music and activity as more than 1,500 volunteers, aged 5 to 85, gathered to assemble more than 285,000 meals to feed the poor. This is the second year the parish has partnered with Stop Hunger Now, a Raleigh-based hunger organization that coordinates distribution of food and other lifesaving aid to children and families in countries around the world.
David and Julia Turner and their son Devyn participated as a family in the event again this year.
"It was so cool to see everyone working together and to know what a difference we can make for people in need," said Devyn, 11, a rising fifth-grader at St. Matthew School.
Meals from the Stop Hunger Now event will feed children in Zambia, Africa, where the Salesians of Don Bosco care for children who have lost their parents to AIDS/HIV. The Salesians are the second largest order in the Church, comprised of priests, brothers and sisters meeting the needs of orphans and vulnerable children around the world. Food from the St. Matthew Church drive will also be donated to local hunger organizations in Charlotte and surrounding areas.
— Jenny Cox, correspondent
Learn more about the St. Matthew food drive and see photos of the Stop Hunger Now event at www.stmatthewfooddrive.com.
For information about the missionary orders being helped by the food drive, go to www.missionariesofthepoor.org and www.salesianmissions.org.