If you were to ask someone what the number 40 represents, some might say a milestone birthday.
Baseball fans might recite the number of home runs a batter should hit in a season.
For faithful followers around the world, 40, is the number of days during Lent – the Holiest time on the Christian calendar. It’s a time when Christians honor the death and resurrection of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
As believers use this time for prayer, reflection, and fasting, one St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church (Abingdon) parishioner, Laura, found a calling.
Her Good Friday fast last year gave her an appreciation for what she has in life and reminded her there are those much less fortunate. Wanting to honor her faith, The Food Project — as it was simply called — came to her as a way not only to honor her beliefs, but also to help others.
With the support of friends and family, Laura set out to help 40 families – one for each day of Lent. It was an idea she pondered for nearly a year.
Laura found inspiration from the Baltimore chapter of Angel Food Ministries, a non-profit group established to provide affordable groceries to those on a very limited budget.
Until its unexpected closing a few months ago, Angel Food Ministries had what they called their Bread of Life signature food box.
For $35, a family could purchase perishable and non-perishable food items including skinless chicken breasts, ground beef, frozen vegetables, macaroni and cheese, pancake mix, and shelf stable (dry) milk to name a few.
With a basic concept in place, she called upon fellow St. Francis de Sales parishioner and president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society Conference at St. Francis de Sales Church, Charles Duke, to find those in need in Harford County.
In 2011, the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Francis de Sales served more than 2500 clients with funds for utility bills, prescription gift cards, and food.
“We don’t typically ask for qualifying information from those we help,” said Charles. “We go on faith. If they ask, we provide. For the most part, it’s pretty obvious those who do ask for help are truly in need.”
As Charles began reaching out to families, Laura set out to find 40 people to pledge $35 each, as well as a location to store and assemble the food boxes.
While failure was not an option, the idea of having 40 copy paper boxes filled with food in her living room wasn’t something she preferred either.
A commercial insurance representative based in Columbia, Laura asked her boss if she could use a vacant office as the staging area for the food collection. Without hesitation, her boss agreed.
Over the course of six weeks, pasta and sauce, cereal, cans of soup, instant mashed potatoes, rice, and other non-perishable food accumulated as trips were made to area grocery stores.
Laura’s husband, along with others, rallied to gather copy paper boxes so the food could be organized and distributed.
A real concern was the distribution day forecast and whether or not those requesting a box of food would show up. It’s not uncommon for those falling on hard times not to keep scheduled appointments.
On a cold and windy Saturday afternoon, which only enhanced the meaning of sacrifice during this Easter season, the St. Francis de Sales Church parking lot brought new meaning to the term “fast food.”
Those who were able and pre-registered lined up to have one of the boxes placed in their car by a member of the parish’s Knights of Columbus.
Some recipients arrived as much as 45 minutes early to make sure they wouldn’t miss this important gift. All but two boxes were distributed that day with the remaining boxes being delivered a few days later.
“We are very blessed to have such generous people who respond when the call goes out for help,” explained Ross Pollis, a volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society. “Unfortunately, many in the area don’t realize just how much of a need we have in our own community.”
Humble and uncomfortable to take any credit, Laura quickly deflects the project’s success to everyone else involved.
“The response was amazing,” she says with gratitude. “This was a personal project with no real official backing. Without reservation, everyone put their faith in this idea because we were helping others. The only way this was possible was by all the support the project was given.”
With conviction, Laura goes on to say, “I was simply the person God called to try and make this happen... that’s all. Everyone else gets the credit... not me.”
In its simplest form, 40, is nothing more than two single digits side-by-side. You can add, subtract, multiply, and divide them in many different ways.
This Easter season, caring individuals used the number 40 to have a direct impact on those our community.
How can you have a positive impact on yours?
* Black and white photos courtesy of HDM.
WRITER’S NOTE: For professional reasons, Laura’s last name was omitted from the story.
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