Food for the Poor, an interdenominational Christian relief and development organization, is known for its outreach to the poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America, where in the first six months of 2020 it provided more than 117 million meals to malnourished children and their families.

The organization typically partners with pastors, missionaries, churches, schools, hospitals and charitable groups in those countries to distribute food, educational and medical supplies, and to build homes and install wells supplying families with clean water.

Food for the Poor since mid-March has shipped more than 200 containers of COVID-19 relief supplies to the countries they serve, including food, personal hygiene items, medical supplies, medicine, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

The agency also sometimes supplies disaster relief to domestic partners in the United States, and Food for the Poor did just that on Aug. 25 in the wake of the coronavirus health crisis and economic downturn, when it sent a 53-foot truck to Southern Maryland filled with nearly 20 tons of personal care items and food for the poor of that region.

“It was a good time to replicate the good work we do in foreign countries, to the U.S. in this time of need,” said Alvaro Pereira, an executive vice president in Food for the Poor’s Church Alliances Department.

Father Michael Briese, the pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Newport, Maryland, who has devoted his priesthood to serving the poor, helped coordinate the distribution on the local level, inviting 19 churches, food banks, pregnancy aid centers and charitable organizations there to pick up the much-needed supplies and in turn give them to the people whom they serve in that area.

“My idea was to pull together the various churches and religions, to work together in a cooperative manner to serve those in need,” Father Briese said. 

Father Briese, at left, joins volunteer Bob Moore in loading up trucks with the personal care items for the poor in Southern Maryland provided by Food for the Poor. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

In the middle of the night, the tractor trailer filled with supplies arrived at the Center Distributors, Inc., warehouse in Waldorf, Maryland, which is operated by Brian Nutter, a St. Mary’s parishioner, along with his brother David.

“It was a good thing. People are in need now. Anything I can do to help out, I like to help out,” said Brian Nutter, whose wife Katherine assisted Father Briese in coordinating the effort.

Around dawn that day, Brian Nutter and some of his workers used forklifts to unload the 25 pallets of items, which included Pampers diapers, shampoo, deodorant, razors, women’s hygiene products, shaving razors, liquid soap, hand sanitizer and also large bags of rice, separating them in piles of related supplies.

A worker at Center Distributors, Inc., in Waldorf, Maryland, uses a forklift to unload a pallet of the personal care items that had been delivered there in a freight truck overnight by Food for the Poor on Aug. 25, 2020. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Early that morning, representatives of those Southern Maryland churches and charitable outreach programs pulled up to the warehouse in trucks or vans, which they loaded with the personal care items and food. In addition to St. Mary’s, three other local Catholic parishes participated – St. Peter’s in Waldorf, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Lexington Park and Holy Ghost in Issue. 

Other churches joining the effort included Shiloh Community United Methodist Church in Newburg; New Hope AME Church in Waldorf; Pisgah Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Bryans Road; and several area Episcopal churches, including the Church of the Ascension in Lexington Park, Christ Church in La Plata and Christ Church Durham Parish in Nanjemoy.

“There’s a lot of people in need. All the churches (here) know people we will never know. All people need food, clothing and shelter. By working together, all of us know we’re able to serve more people in our various communities,” Father Briese said. “The cooperative spirit in this effort reflects the Catholic tradition of working with our neighbors… That’s what we do.”

Volunteers and staff members from the 19 local churches, charitable groups and pregnancy aid centers that are on the front lines of serving the poor in Southern Maryland loaded up trucks and vans with the supplies provided by Food for the Poor on Aug. 25, 2020. In the photo below, Tom Trudell, a deacon candidate and pantry volunteer of St. Mary's Parish in Newport, Maryland, collects some of the donated supplies to distribute at his parish to people in need. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Crisis pregnancy center representatives picking up supplies came from Care Net Pregnancy Center of Southern Maryland, which has locations in Lexington Park, Leonardtown and Prince Frederick; and the Catherine Foundation in Waldorf. 

The priest said the pregnancy centers greatly appreciated the diapers and wipes for babies and the personal care items that mothers can use.

“I’ve never seen so many pampers in my lifetime,” he said.

Food for the Poor partnered with Matthew 25:Ministries in delivering the supplies, some of which were donated by Procter & Gamble.

Father Briese noted that he has been familiar with the work of Food for the Poor since 2003, when as a candidate in the permanent diaconate program, he traveled to Jamaica and witnessed the organization’s outreach to people living in abject poverty there. Since then, he’s provided ongoing support to the organization. As the pastor of Holy Name Parish in Washington, D.C., he worked with parishioners to raise money for the construction of three houses built by Food for the Poor in El Salvador.

“They put their faith in action,” he said of the agency’s work.

Throughout the week, assisted by volunteers, Father Briese personally delivers food to the poor living in rural parts of Charles and St. Mary’s counties, including in tents in the woods, and at motels, public housing units and in apartments. He’s also working with local stores and with Catholic groups and individuals to collect 1,500 new coats for the poor for the upcoming winter months. In addition, teams of volunteers at St. Mary’s Good Shepherd Food Pantry distribute food to families and individuals lined up in cars outside the parish hall on the third Saturday of each month.

“This man is a walking example of what we’re about,” said Delane Bailey Herd, a senior field representative in Food for the Poor’s Church Alliances Department. She said the agency wanted to do something to support his outreach to the poor during the COVID-19 crisis, and like it does in foreign countries, Food for the Poor collaborated with an existing network in that community, in this case, with Father Briese’s outreach to the poor in Southern Maryland.

Evelyn Lawrence, the director of the Good Shepherd Food Pantry at St. Mary’s, noted that the pantry has almost doubled its outreach in recent months.

“The need has increased that much due to the pandemic,” she said. In July, the pantry served 441 families, and in the last fiscal year, it provided an estimated 56 tons of food for 3,245 households in that community.

Father Briese said that rural Southern Maryland parish’s outreach, like that of Food for the Poor, is a work of faith.

“When we come into the presence of a poor person, we meet the image of Christ, and in that human being is a reflection of a sacred, precious and holy life,” he said.