Members of the basketball team from St. Vincent Pallotti High School demonstrated teamwork on May 29, not on the court, but at a large-scale Catholic Charities food distribution at neighboring St. Mary of the Mills Parish in Laurel, Maryland, as they joined fellow students and parish and community members in helping to distribute 500 boxes of groceries and 500 take-home meals to people impacted by the COVID-19 economic downturn.

St. Vincent Pallotti’s basketball coach, Dennis Kirkland, said it’s a goal of the program to encourage players to “give back to the community,” and on that day, four of his players did that, joining about 20 other Pallotti students in packing food and then loading the boxes in people’s car trunks. Each car received a box of grocery staples and also family-sized meals of egg noodles with Swedish meatballs and gravy, buttered carrots, Hawaiian rolls and pound cake. 

Coach Kirkland said the effort unfolded like an assembly line, with his players and the other student and adult volunteers loading the cars.

“I was very proud. This is something I always wanted to do… We did stay together as a group and work together,” he said of his basketball players helping out that day.

About 40 volunteers assisted in Catholic Charities' food distribution at St. Mary of the Mills, including students from nearby St. Vincent Pallotti High School and from the parish's youth group. (CS photo/Andrew Rozario)

Joe Dempsey, the director of special projects for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington who helped coordinate that day’s outreach, estimated that about 25 student volunteers and 15 adult volunteers joined Charities’ staff members in distributing the food. He noted that community leaders also participated, including Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, and the local police helped the flow of traffic of the 500 cars in two lines spread through the parking lots of St. Mary of the Mills and a community center. 

The volunteers and Catholic Charities’ staff members wore gloves and face masks and maintained social distances as they packed the food and loaded the cars, as safety precautions against the spread of the coronavirus.

Father Anthony Lickteig, the pastor of St. Mary of the Mills, noted, “It was so great to see so many people from different parts of our community come together to help those in need.”

St. Mary of the Mills’ pastor said the volunteers represented a “great cross section of our community.”

“We had parishioners help out. We had volunteers from the city, we had police show up and help out, we had the mayor present, those Pallotti high school students, and members of our youth group,” he said.

Father Anthony Lickteig, the pastor of St. Mary of the Mills Parish in Laurel, said the volunteers helping at Catholic Charities' May 29 food distribution there represented a cross section of the community. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

At a time when food insecurity and the need for food assistance for families and individuals has greatly increased in the wake of the COVID-19 health and economic crises, Father Lickteig said the Catholic Charities’ food distribution in their Laurel community “was our opportunity to provide hope to people,” to let them know “they are not forgotten, there are people out there who care for them and want to help.”

Dempsey praised that community effort, saying, “This was a big deal to them, and they put their shoulder to it.” 

He said he was talking to police officers who commented that “a lot of people coming through the line are working people who need help.”

The Catholic Charities official added, “They’re people like us, who need help right now.” And he said many of those who pulled up in cars had their children with them, and the individuals and families were joyful and friendly and thankful for the help.

Catholic Charities has responded to the increased demand for food assistance by hosting weekly large-scale distributions of grocery boxes and prepared meals throughout the Washington area. In addition to the Laurel effort, Catholic Charities’ food distributions in Prince George’s County have taken place in Temple Hills and Hyattsville. Since the coronavirus outbreak, Prince George’s County has been the hardest hit county in the state of Maryland, with more than 15,700 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 550 deaths as of June 3.

Since March and the onset of the self-isolation regulations set forth to slow the spread of COVID-19, Catholic Charities has provided more than 22,000 packages of food, the equivalent of 440,000 meals, across the Washington area. The agency has also distributed 18,000 ready-t0-eat meals. The total number of meals reflect Catholic Charities’ large distributions plus smaller food programs including pantries, and the outreach of the agency’s SHARE Food Network.

In addition to Catholic Charities’ food distributions in those Prince George’s County communities, the agency has also held large-scale, drive-through food distributions at the parking lot of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and in Gaithersburg, Maryland. 

“We’re going to be doing this for awhile. I see all of us doing this for the foreseeable future,” Dempsey said, noting how great the demand is for food assistance. He added, “We’re going to do another one next week and the week after. The need is definitely there.”

Five hundred cars were lined up it two rows for Catholic Charities' May 29 food distribution at St. Mary of the Mills Parish in Laurel, Maryland. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Catholic Charities will have a large-scale food distribution at 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 4 at Mount Calvary Catholic Church and Bishop McNamara High School, 6800 Marlboro Pike, Forestville, Maryland. The following week, Catholic Charities’ will have a food distribution on June 12 at Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg. Plans are being made for additional large-scale distributions in the coming weeks in other parts of the Washington area.

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. 

Dempsey noted that outreach by Catholic Charities is a work of faith. “It’s an essential Christian service to feed people,” he said.

Father Anthony Lickteig, the pastor of St. Mary of the Mills, said the community support at the food distribution at the Laurel parish food distribution in their Laurel community “was our opportunity to provide hope to people.” (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Catholic Charities is on the front lines of the fight against hunger in the region all year round. In 2019, the agency provided more than 2.5 million meals to those in need and distributed more than 1 million pounds of food to local pantries. The organization served 16,000 warm meals through the weekly St. Maria’s Meals weekly dinner program, and more than 34,000 people were able to purchase affordable, nutritious groceries through its SHARE Food Network.

For people who would like to help, Catholic Charities has a special COVID-19 response page that lists its food pantries and its other services, at https://www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/covid19-resource-guide/.

Catholic Charities DC is the largest independent social services agency in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. As the charitable arm of the Archdiocese of Washington, Catholic Charities provides critical services to hundreds of thousands of people in need throughout the District of Columbia and Montgomery, Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties in Maryland. For more information, visit www.catholiccharitiesdc.org.