Sunday, March 18, was no ordinary Sunday in the Diocese of Camden.
Southern New Jersey parishes bustled with activity on the sunny day as the Camden Diocese held its fifth Annual FaithFULL food drive. After months of food collections held at parishes and schools, the drive culminated as hundreds of groups and individuals brought their food items to locations across the diocese throughout the day.
They arrived in cars, trucks and rented U-hauls: parishioners, Knights of Columbus, Catholic schools, clergy, families, individuals young and old. All were directly responding to the corporal work of mercy, “feed the hungry,” recognizing the opportunity to put faith into action during this Lenten season.
And in South Jersey, the need for food is great.
According to Feeding America, the six countries that comprise the Diocese of Camden make up some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the state, five of which surpass the average rate of 10.8 percent.
Remarked Jose Sanchez of Catholic Charities, one of the organizers of the drive, “One in six individuals in South Jersey are experiencing food insecurity — one of five of them being children.”
Sanchez explained that “food insecurity” describes the situation of people not being able to access food consistently for a healthy lifestyle. He said the cause often stems from a lack of money or additional financial obligations.
“Often, we hear from clients about how parents are skipping a meal or eating a lot less just to make sure that their kids are eating and get a full meal,” he said.
The FaithFULL Food Drive was launched five years ago with the goal of helping the South Jersey community stock the shelves of pantries of agencies like Catholic Charities, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, and other local pantries which all provide food for those who need it most.
This year, while totals are still being tallied, the number of pounds raised have already surpassed the number of pounds collected in previous years.
At one of the donation sites, Our Lady of Hope Parish in Blackwood, volunteers busied themselves all day as donations came pouring in. High school students, Catholic Charities staff, and volunteers spent the day collecting canned and boxed donations from donors, sorting them into boxes, weighing each box, and loading them into a truck for distribution. By the end of the day, almost 22,000 pounds of food from that site alone had been boxed and distributed.
A student volunteer from Paul IV High School who had been lifting boxes into the truck all day stretched his arms as the day wound down.
“I can’t feel my arms,” he laughed. “I’ve never seen so much food before in my life. But I’m really happy to know that it all will go toward people in the community who need it the most. I’ve never known what it’s like to be hungry. I can’t even imagine what that must be like for so many people,” he added, glancing at the parked Catholic Charities truck, filled with boxes.