“You give them something to eat”

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Maryknoll sisters take Jesus’ words in Matthew 14:16 to heart as they respond to world hunger.

An unimaginable scourge has assaulted this place we call home: COVID-19. Since this pandemic began in December 2019, more than 22.7 million cases have been reported in more than 188 countries and territories as of mid-August 2020.

Maryknoll sisters in 24 of those countries, like people throughout the world, found themselves in “lockdown” and, like millions of others, asked themselves, “What can we do to help?”

Many of the sisters are working with the people to tackle one of the biggest concerns affecting those in lockdown: the lack of food.

In Peru, Sister Analyn Manauis supports Ollas Comunes (Common Pots), one of the ways local parishes and religious congregations respond to this basic need throughout Lima. “The communities are self-organized and the members take turns preparing meals, which are basically breakfast and lunch,” she says. “Currently, I’m helping a bit by financial donations I’ve received from family and friends that will go to the Olla Común. I was also able to help 21 families with bags of basic grocery items with gifts from relatives and friends.”

From Panama, where Sisters Laura Guledew and Rebecca Macugay work with the Pastoral Social–Caritas, Sister Macugay writes: “Here in Las Mañanitas we have a program for 60 vulnerable families.” It is funded, she explains, by parishioners who pledge a donation every two weeks or every month for the pastoral ministry to buy food at a cheaper price at the food bank.

“The people of the parish are of the working class, many of whom lost their jobs when the lockdown started,” Sister Macugay says. “Our parishioner donors come from the same population and share from the meager resources they have. Our funds are getting precariously low, but God provides.”

Also in Panama, Sisters Melinda Roper and Jocelyn Fenix are helping to coordinate efforts to feed stranded migrants and members of their community of Darién.

During the lockdown in Cambodia, Sister Mary Little and her fellow teachers not only prepared and delivered school lessons to their pupils, but also checked if families needed food support due to the pandemic.

“We began by giving 15 kilos of rice a month to 23 families and in June we gave to 50 families,” Sister Little says. In mid-June, she adds, they started giving soy milk or regular milk to all the children in the elementary school program each week. By July, they were giving 60 families 25 kilos of rice and soy sauce or fish sauce. “We have also given money to a local rice seller whom we know,” says Sister Little, “to give five kilos of rice to any poor families that come to her store.”

In southern Africa, Maryknoll sisters like Janice McLaughlin were already responding to people who were suffering from the devastation of Cyclone Idai even before the coronavirus. In March 2019, months before anyone could imagine the onslaught of COVID-19, the 127-mile-per-hour cyclone plowed through Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The rains following Cyclone Idai resulted in floods and landslides that destroyed buildings, roads, bridges, homes and crops and contaminated the water. In eastern Zimbabwe, Sister McLaughlin says, nearly 24,000 people were affected, with many still living in crowded tents and now suffering not only from the threat of COVID-19, but also from the specter of starvation.

“Our community has sent what donations we could to assist vulnerable women and girls who are displaced in one camp where the assessment was made by the camp community to aid young girls from child-headed families, expectant mothers and those with chronic diseases,” Sister McLaughlin says.

As of mid-August, U.N. reports indicate that 265 million more people could face starvation by the end of the year without support.

In view of the magnitude of this problem, efforts made by people to help feed others may seem small, but the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta put things in perspective: “It’s only a drop in the ocean, but the ocean wouldn’t be the same without that drop.”

Featured image: People displaced in Zimbabwe waiting for food to be distributed. Maryknoll Sisters around the world have been supporting programs to provide food to those affected by the economic threat of COVID-19. (Courtesy of Janice McLaughlin/Zimbabwe)




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About the author

Mary Ellen Manz, M.M.

Maryknoll Sister Mary Ellen Manz of Jamaica, New York, entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation in 1950 after having graduated from the Mary Louis Academy. She served in Chile, South Sudan and in different positions at the Maryknoll Sisters Center. She is also the Sisters’ liaison to Maryknoll Magazine and has written many articles about the Sisters for the publication.