Because social distancing and self isolation have caused the temporary halt to the public celebration of Masses in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Father Dan Leary, pastor of St. Andrew Apostle Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, cannot offer the Eucharist to his parishioners.
But, while the priest cannot offer the Bread of Life to those who have a spiritual hunger, he can – and does – offer bread to those who have a physical hunger. Twice a week, Father Leary picks up bread from a Hagerstown bakery and delivers it to food banks and other social outreach programs throughout the Archdiocese of Washington.
“People are still hungry for Jesus,” Father Leary said. “So, we give them this natural bread through our love of Jesus until they can receive Jesus in the Eucharist. When we give them this bread, our love for them must be like Jesus's love for them in the Eucharist.”
Father Leary said that when social distancing regulations first went into effect, “I didn't just want to sit around. I said, 'Lord, what can I do to help the poor?'” It was on Palm Sunday when he got his answer.
“I received a text from the manager of a massive company in Hagerstown asking if I wanted extra bread. I said 'yes',” Father Leary said, adding that he then contacted several places that would accept the bread and pass it on to those in need.
Over the past several weeks, Father Leary “and a couple of buddies” make the twice weekly trip to the bakery to pick up between 500 and 900 loaves of bread. One time, they collected 3,000 loaves. The bread is then donated to several outreaches, including the food banks at St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring and St. Martin Parish in Gaithersburg, two homes run by the Missionaries of Charity, Catholic Charities in Silver Spring, Sacred Heart Parish in Washington, D.C., and the Southern Maryland food bank.
“Because of the social distance thing, it's not a lot of guys doing this with me,” Father Leary said. “We're just a couple of people in the food chain. We hear how happy the people are to receive this, and we are very pleased we can do this corporal work of mercy.”
Father Leary said, “I love doing this. I love greeting the bakery workers and I love they are so happy to help the poor and suffering. I don't talk about the virus anymore. I say 'victory over virus' and how God has given us this opportunity to help others.”