Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington provided 800 prepared meals and 800 boxes of groceries to needy families May 19 during a massive distribution at the parking lot of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Unlike previous food distributions conducted by Catholic Charities since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, the May 19 food giveaway included cookies baked by an award-winning pastry chef who also happens to be a Capuchin brother preparing for the priesthood. 

Capuchin Brother Andrew Corriente baked about 1,600 peanut butter, chocolate chip, and snickerdoodle cookies to be distributed with the meals and groceries. “I wanted to make All-American favorites,” he explained of his choice of cookies. “And, as much as I wanted to be adventurous, I never made this many cookies before, so I wanted to stay with something simple.”

Brother Andrew, a fourth-year master of divinity student at The Catholic University of America and resident of Capuchin College, was crowned last January as the champion on ABC’s “The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition.” He beat out 10 nine other bakers for the title during the nationally televised challenge. He was a popular contestant who trended on social media as “Brother Baker.”

“Catholic Charities came to me and said they were going to feed 800 families, and as crazy as I am, I just jumped on it,” Brother Andrew said.

Capuchin Brother Andrew Corriente assists in Catholic Charities'  May 13 food distribution in the west parking lot of the Basilica of  the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Brother Andrew, an award-winning baker, baked 1,600 cookies that were given out along with boxes of food and meals to 800 people who lined up in their cars for help. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Spending four days making the cookies, Brother Andrew said that “I would wake up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning and make a small batch to check the recipe and cooking times. Once I nailed that, I increased the size of the batches.”

Making about 400 cookies each day, Brother Andrew enlisted the help of fellow Capuchins. “Each day I had two brothers help – one to wash dishes and one to scoop out the cookie dough,” he said. The only snag he encountered was “when I ran out of all purpose flour and our shipment was not due to come in for three days. So I had to work with cake flour and bread flour to figure out the recipe to mimic all purpose flour.”

Brother Andrew frequently uses his culinary skills to help the less fortunate and the working poor. He and a group of brothers and lay volunteers cook and serve dinner every Sunday for the day laborers who congregate at a local Home Depot looking for work. Currently, he is working on making cookies to donate to a local women’s shelter.

”This (the ability to bake) is a gift that God gave me, so what good would it do if I just keep it inside to myself?” he said. “There is that moment when you taste something good – call it joy or pleasure or peace or calm – and I want to be able to give people that moment especially now.”

Once Brother Andrew baked the cookies, fellow Capuchins “put on masks and gloves and helped me package them,” he said. The cookies were distributed by Catholic Charities along with the groceries and the prepared meals that included bourbon-glazed chicken, mashed potatoes and broccoli. 

“Everyone needs a little something for their soul,” said Msgr. John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities. “The sweet surprise in the food packages will be a reminder that, no matter how difficult life can be sometimes, there are small things to be savored.”

Since March and the onset of the self-isolation regulations set forth to slow the spread of COVID-19, Catholic Charities has provided about 10,000 packages of food, the equivalent of 200,000 meals, across the Washington metro area. Catholic Charities has also held large-scale, drive-through food distributions in Temple Hills, Hyattsville and Gaithersburg, Maryland. 

The agency has also greatly increased its food distributions at the Spanish Catholic Center in Washington, at the Catholic Charities Center in Silver Spring and at the Southern Maryland Food Bank in Waldorf to assist those facing hardships because of the economic impact created by the stay-at-home mandates, the shutdown of area businesses and the loss of jobs. 

On May 19, the 800 grocery boxes and meals were distributed in the National Shrine’s parking lot during a three-hour period, as people lined up in cars and Catholic Charities’ staff and volunteers wearing masks and gloves placed the food in the vehicles.

"The National Shrine was grateful for the opportunity to open its west parking lot today to serve as a food distribution site for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, in an effort to relieve the significant food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 economic crisis in our community,” said Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the National Shrine. “While we are grateful to have played a small part in assisting them with physical sustenance, we hope our prayers will spiritually sustain them during these difficult times.  As we continue pray to for all those affected by the coronavirus pandemic, we look forward to the day when we can open more than our parking lot, but the doors to Mary’s Shrine.”

Assisting in the delivering of the food at the National Shrine were staff members from Archbishop Carroll High School, including Larry Savoy, president of the school; Elana Gilmore, principal; and Mark Savercool, the school’s vice president for advancement.

“School president Larry Savoy challenged a small group of Carroll administrators to lend a hand to the Catholic Charities event that helped many of our neighbors who are struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 crisis,” Savercool said. “We challenge our students each fall to collect and distribute food as part of our Thanksgiving Food Drive, so today it was our (administrators’) turn to help provide for our local community.”

The volunteers assisting at Catholic Charities' May 13 food distribution in the National Shrine's parking lot included several administrators from nearby Archbishop Carroll High School. At left is Mark Savercool, the school's vice president for advancement, and at right is Larry Savoy, the school's president. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The volunteers also included students from The Catholic University of America, which is located next to the National Shrine.

Catholic Charities’ next large-scale food distribution is set for Friday, May 29, at noon at St. Mary of the Mills Church at 106 Saint Mary’s Place, in Laurel, Maryland.