Sheila Grove

ERIE, PA — “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35) 

Meia Menez, Arianna Manus and Kylee Koneiczki,
students at St. James School, Erie fill meal packets
to be shipped to Burkina Faso, West Africa
Photo/Sheila Grove 

Jesus’ words serve as mission to his followers. The response of the Catholic Church is a longstanding tradition of service to the poor around the world. The mission is communicated in Catholic homes and blossoms in Catholic Schools where students have frequent opportunities to help others. Gestures may be small and barely noticed, like random acts of kindness, or large in the form of organized projects.

Thanks to the Social Justice and Life Office of the Diocese of Erie and the Catholic Schools Office, sixth grade students from Catholic schools across Erie County had the opportunity to respond to the mission 

 On March 4, they participated in a Global Poverty Project sponsored by Rise Against Hunger, a partner of Catholic Relief Services’ Helping Hands. The effort is part of a three-year grant that educates students about food scarcity and hunger and provides them with an opportunity to make a difference by packaging nutritious meals for those who need them in Burkina Faso, West Africa.  

 During the inaugural year of the grant, students packed 15,000 meals of soy protein, dehydrated vegetables and rice. This year’s crop of sixth graders managed to exceed the goal filling the cafeteria at St. Mark Catholic Center in two shifts to prepare and pack the much-needed meals.   

Patrice Swick, director of the Social Justice and Life Office for the Diocese of Erie, offered a presentation to the students to introduce them to the need that exists in Africa and the process of helping. After donning hair nets and gloves, they formed assembly lines to measure, weigh and seal bags that will provide nourishment for those in areas of food scarcity.   

Our Lady of Peace student Regina Murnock affirmed her experience thus: “I learned that a lot of people are really hungry. It is a good thing for us to help them.”  

Swick, who worked with the students in the assembly lines, was pleased with the second-year effort.   

“It’s going really great,” she said, looking over the sea of students at work. The kids had a little bit of an idea of what they were getting into because the seventh graders had such a good experience last year. We’re really thrilled. Being able to physically do something makes you feel connected to our sisters and brothers around the world. It’s how we’re called to serve. 

That message was well-reflected by Abby Koca, also of Our Lady of Peace.

“I thought it was really cool that we’re from Erie and we’re sending the food to people a really long way away. They’re so unfortunate, but we take things for

granted and they don’t.

Adam Clark and Emma Thomas from St. Jude
School, Erie, sound the gong to celebrate
another 1,000 meals packed.
Photo/Sheila Grove

Students displayed great teamwork and maturity as they completed their tasks smoothly. Celebration entered the scene when a gong was sounded each time 1,000 bags were assembled. Loud cheers broke out as these students celebrated their contribution to those in need.

The impact of this project is clear for those in Africa who would otherwise go without. The value of hands-on participation in an upbeat atmosphere and the fun of celebration goes a long way toward building global citizens ready to heed the call of Jesus. 



 Editor’s noteAn article published in the June 2019 edition of Faith magazine  provides more information about this important project.

Patrice Swick, Director of the Social Justice and Life Office for the Diocese
of Erie, helps students with meal packing.
Photo/Sheila Grove