More than 3.5 million meals served by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington fed the hungry and those touched by food insecurity during 2020, an unprecedented and historic year of economic hardship brought on by the global coronavirus pandemic.

Since March, when most schools and many businesses shut down in an effort to slow the COVID-19 spread, Catholic Charities DC saw a significant increase in the need for food assistance in the Maryland and District region. To help in the crisis, Catholic Charities hosted more than 25 large-scale community food distributions throughout the Washington area, providing nutritious food to approximately 500 to 1,000 struggling families who lined up for hours beforehand at each event.

In 2020, Catholic Charities distributed more than 3 million pounds of food to local pantries, and more than 87,700 packages of affordable groceries were made available through the SHARE Food Network. The Southern Maryland Food Bank gave out more than 12,200 Snack Saks to children and homebound seniors.

“This crisis has been difficult for all of us, but it’s been particularly hard on our most vulnerable neighbors. Our food pantries now feed lines of people that wind around full city blocks. We have provided rental assistance to an unprecedented number of families to prevent them from becoming homeless,” said Msgr. John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

“This might be an easy time for some to lose faith. But I am so inspired knowing our incredible staff, volunteers, and donors – those on the front lines and those behind the scenes – are committed to serving those in need during the pandemic and beyond. This has truly been a heroic effort,” the priest said.

A volunteer stacks food boxes that other volunteers will place in the trunks of people's cars during Catholic Charities’ Nov. 6, 2020 food distribution at Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, Maryland. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Throughout the year, more than 8,500 people contributed to Catholic Charities’ programs that provided food, shelter and medical care and other services for nearly 200,000 people – an increase of 34 percent from last year – during one of the agency’s most challenging times in its history. 

To further combat food insecurity in D.C. and five counties in Maryland during the Christmas season, Catholic Charities DC is hosting a Virtual Food Drive to benefit its food assistance programs. For more information about the Virtual Food Drive, including how to contribute, please visit: https://www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/vfd/

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Social Concerns also stepped its efforts to assist those struggling to feed their families in the crisis, expanding the parish food pantry program to include parish schools in an effort to greater assist those in need. As a result of the broader outreach, the archdiocesan Parish Pantry Support Project was renamed the Community Food Security Program, which officially launched this past summer.  

According to Genevieve Mougey, the director of the archdiocesan Office for Social Concerns, the Community Food Security Program began with an initial startup of $425,000. The program has distributed about $300,000 so far in grants of between $500 and $5,000 to local Catholic pantries assisting those who are having trouble feeding their families. The Community Food Security Program opened July 21 and the first grants were distributed on Aug. 1. 

More than $500,000 in pledges and support for the program has been received to date to keep the Community Food Security Program running. The week before Thanksgiving, the program received its highest number of grant requests, and thanks to the generosity of the faithful of the Archdiocese of Washington, all the applications were approved, according to Mougey, who also credits the archdiocesan Secretariat for Development for helping to support the program.

The grant funds go directly to parishes or parish schools to aid people who are asking for assistance in buying food for themselves or their family. It is left up to the parish or school to determine how to best distribute the aid, with some parishes using funds to purchase of grocery gift cards, food supplies, restocking parish food pantries or taking people grocery shopping.

Above, volunteers at the food pantry at St. Joseph in Largo, Maryland, and a food pantry volunteer at St. Mark the Evangelist prepare to load cars lined up outside their parishes in July 2020, as the economic downturn resulting from the coronavirus pandemic left many area people in need of food assistance. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

The Catholic Standard reported last month that a survey taken this summer found that 67 or nearly one-half of the archdiocese's 139 parishes now operate food pantries. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, the number of people those parishes are serving is estimated to have doubled to 15,000 people weekly, as has the cost for providing food assistance to meet the growing demand. 

“The Office of Social Concerns has approved grants from rural to suburban to inner city,” Mougey told the Catholic Standard, adding that the pandemic’s socio-economic implications are far reaching with no boundaries, affecting all ages and groups in the region.

She said the generosity of the men and women, including young people, who are donating to this fund or serving as heroic volunteers at all levels of outreach in 2020 has been overwhelming. “It speaks to the caliber of love we as the Archdiocese of Washington have for one another,” Mougey said. “...The response to provide help and assist our community, our brothers and sisters, is that we respond this way because we are Catholic, not because they are Catholic. We are responsible for one another and for the care of our community.”

To apply for parish grant funding through the Community Food Security Program, please visit: https://adw.org/living-the-faith/social-concerns/parish-food-pantry-best-practices//  or for more information on the Community Food Security Program or to donate, please visit: https://adw.org/ways-to-give/food-pantries/ .

Volunteers prepare to distribute food from the St. Stephen's Food Pantry on July 4, 2020 at the Shrine of St. Jude Parish in Rockville, Maryland. The parish started the pantry in May during the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn, and a month later, it was serving 400 people each week. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)