I grew up Catholic and have always cherished the tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, the season leading up to Easter. There are about 1.2 billion Catholics around the world today, most of which will fast together. If you pay close attention, you will notice nearly all of the fast food chains and other restaurants pushing their fish and vegetarian options. My childhood priest spent quite a lot of time explaining that the reason we do this is to be in unity with those who can’t afford meat. Many churches host fish dinners on Friday nights and give the money to charities that address hunger. As a global community, we recognize that hunger is a very real problem for people worldwide.
As a child, I always thought of Uwamahora, the little girl in Uganda that my family sent money and gifts to on a monthly basis. It made hunger seem like it was far away. My friends and teachers often told me to eat everything on my plate because people were starving in Ethiopia. All of this was nice and tidy in my private Catholic school. That reality began to change when I went to the public high school and became friends with one of the coolest guys in school, Jimmy. Jimmy was always suave. Too cool for homework or to play football. One time I ran into Jimmy at my church, his mom was getting food at the very small pantry. He confided that they were having some family issues and he hadn’t had a home is several months. I began to understand why his homework only showed up on occasion, and that he couldn’t afford the football uniform. When I fasted that Friday, I thought of Jimmy and his sister, Allie.
Several years later, I was spending some time in the Gambia, the smallest, poorest country in Africa. They have 30% unemployment, the average education completed is 1st grade, and there is very little hope for upward mobility. My job was with the World Food Programme, but I spent my free time volunteering at the hospital in the pediatric ward. Many of the children were there simply because they were hungry. The hospital didn’t have a budget to feed its patients, so they couldn’t do much of anything for the kids. There were two small Catholic churches in the mostly Muslim country. The churches loyally hosted a spaghetti dinner every Friday night to raise money for the hungry. I was blown away. Many Catholics had a hard time finding a job because of their religion, and they were still remembering, and providing for the hungry.
Today is yet another Friday in Lent. Today, I like to live by the mantra: think globally, act locally. While I remember and pray for the 795 million people who are hungry, I can and will do something for the hungry right here in Greensboro and High Point. Thank you to the many people out there who are ready to end hunger in our community. Yesterday, I talked to a mom whose son receives a backpack from Backpack Beginnings each week. She is a single mom who lovingly cares for others at her full-time job, then goes home to care for her 10-year-old son full-time. The extra food has helped her ensure that her son gets the nutrition he needs to be successful. As a thank you, she is a faithful volunteer to A Simple Gesture and Backpack Beginnings.
I am so grateful for a faith that actively loves and cares for the hungry. I am blessed to live in a community that lives those principles.