‘Mixing childhood experience with mission’
FAIRFIELD—Paola Pena, one of the youth ministers of Fairfield Life Teen and an employee at St. Pius X in Fairfield, saw a need in the community and saw a way that she could fill that need.
“I saw a post on social media about how families would be experiencing heightened food insecurity due to school and business closings and it brought me back to my childhood,” shared Pena. “I grew up on food pantries. I know what it’s like to be food insecure. As a kid, you’re always hungry, but you can’t eat what you want when you want.”
Pena got the OK from Father Sam Kachuba, pastor of St. Pius, and began her outreach. She made graphics and social media posts to get the word out.
“Many families in Bridgeport will be experiencing food insecurities due to recent school closures,” Pena wrote online. “If you overbought food or would like to donate—please drop off food at the Faith Center Chapel so we can donate to pantries in need. If you know someone who is homebound and can’t leave to buy groceries or supplies and they need assistance, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Pena raised $500 within 24 hours and $1,650 all within three days. “More people were willing to give money than food donations,” explained Pena, especially with many not wanting to venture out to the store. This gave Pena new insight into ways to modernize evangelization and communicate to the Church.
“The Holy Spirit was like you have to do something,” said Pena. “I found a way to mix my childhood experience with mission. My story was totally worth it, God is using it to serve His Church.”
Teens and young adults, now home from school, gathered to help sort food and supplies…and many stayed to pray for our community and the world during this time of uncertainty. “The Lord just wanted to pour peace on us,” Pena said, stating that the experience was meaningful for all involved.
On Wednesday alone, four deliveries were made, including Thomas Merton Center, Operation Hope and Blessed Sacrament.
Pena says she plans on continuing this drive while schools are closed.
When asked what this experience has taught her, Pena explained, “God’s desire is for each of us to be a saint, and it is a unique call for each and every one of us. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Am I open to the Holy Spirit?’ If everyone was aware of the Spirit in their lives, the world would be so different.”
Along with listening to His unique call for each one of us, Pena suggests, “If you can find a chapel that’s open—go—if not, read the Scriptures. Fall in love with the love letter from heaven.”
Her hope, “that the solace and quiet will draw more Catholics to the Scripture.”
‘God really is in everything’
DANBURY—St. Gregory the Great Parish in Danbury is also conducting a food and supply drive for those in need.
Devon McCormick, pastoral assistant at St. Gregory the Great saw what Pena and St. Pius were doing and loved the idea. “We were kind of scrambling here at St. Greg’s to figure out what our response should be, and I thought that their model was absolutely perfect,” McCormick explained.
“We knew that our community needed something like this,” said McCormick, explaining that many parishioners are elderly and unable to leave their houses to shop for necessities. In addition, St. Greg’s School has many families that could struggle to provide adequately for their kids with the recent closures. “I knew that we needed to help in some way, and our parishioners are always so incredibly generous.”
Their Facebook post reads, “If you overbought food/supplies, or would just like to donate, please bring canned/boxed food, toiletries, hand sanitizer, etc. to the St. Greg’s Parish Office (behind the basketball courts) between 9 am and 12 pm every Monday through Friday until 3/31. If you, or someone you know, is homebound and in need, please contact Devon McCormick at email@example.com.”
McCormick and St. Greg’s have raised almost $500 in the past 24 hours, utilizing the money-sharing app Venmo, as well.
McCormick explains that they are expecting a surge in material donations in the days to come. Many young people have also reached out and offered to do contact-free delivery.
“I truly believe that our universal calling is to love one another,” shared McCormick. “To me, to love means to put others before myself. This is a really scary and confusing time, and it can be so easy to turn inward and focus on our own needs. But I think that God could be working through this crisis to show us what it means to truly love one another and care for the most vulnerable of our society. These days are really teaching me that, as a young person, I should put aside my own needs, fears and anxieties, and turn those into positive action for others.”
McCormick, a mom to a 16-month-old, considers this a teachable moment. She asks what her son can learn from looking back at this time. “In general, I just hope that all of us come together in support of one another in order to bring us all through this scary time. It really is a life and death situation out there, so my only hope is that we come out on the other side of this more unified in love, compassion, and care for one another,” she says.
As for suggestions on how to maintain one’s prayer life during this time, McCormick says there are tons of resources available online—whether it be streaming Mass, online meditations, or spending time reading Scripture as a family.
Her hope—for a thriving spiritual life, by being intentional about time with those in the house. “God really is in everything— every encounter, interaction, crisis, or blessing—including this dark time,” says McCormick.
By Elizabeth Clyons