PITTSBURGH — Sporting orange hair nets and crinkly plastic gloves, hundreds of students, staff, faculty and administrators at Carlow University cooperated to pack 20,000 meals, which will be sent to people in need in Africa.
The Pittsburgh-based university is a Mercy/Catholic institution, which roots in the traditions of the Catholic faith and the vision and values of the Sisters of Mercy.
The meal-packaging event last month was one of many activities commemorating the university’s 90th anniversary and evoking the university’s values of mercy and service.
“It really fits into our mission of service,” said Sister of Mercy Sheila Carney, special assistant to the president for Carlow’s Office of Mercy Heritage. “We have a value of sacredness of creation, which calls upon us to build a world where everyone can thrive, so having nourishment is part of that.”
The meals are part of Catholic Relief Services’ Helping Hands program, which partners with Rise Against Hunger, an international hunger relief agency that provides the supplies and staff for CRS Helping Hands’ events at churches and schools across the country, said Mary Peirce, CRS church engagement coordinator for Helping Hands.
Sister Sheila said volunteers performed specific tasks — one holds a plastic bag under a funnel, another pours in rice, another pours soy, another dehydrated vegetables, and yet another a vitamin packet. Other volunteers heat-seal each bag, box the bags, tape the boxes and load them onto pallets for shipping.
Laurie Petty, director of special programs and events at Carlow, said upbeat music helped volunteers keep up the pace.
“Then at intervals of 2000-meals-made there was a gong; 4000 meals a gong, 6000 another gong,” Petty said. “It was motivational.”
Sister Sheila agrees.
“It’s a really frenetic atmosphere, but in two hours we packed 20,000 meals,” Sister Sheila said. “The process is genius.”
The process continues as CRS sends the packaged meals to Burkina Faso, a west African country plagued by droughts, flooding, political unrest and terrorism, Peirce said.
“It’s a really challenging place to help,” Peirce said. “There’s a lot of violence and security concerns.”
CRS not only ships the meals to alleviate immediate malnutrition, they’re also using funds raised by the meal-packing hosts to support longer-term income-generating programs addressing the root causes of poverty and hunger there.
“So next year, some recipients will include a safe home for women, and an orphanage that is being phased out because of problems,” Peirce said, in addition to programs that teach sewing, soap-making and enhanced farming practices.
In addition to feeding the hungry, Sister Sheila said the meal-packaging event fed the spirit of the Carlow community.
“And those hair nets really are the great leveler,” Sister Sheila said. “It’s amazing. Everybody looks silly. There’s a lot of fun that goes on around that. It breaks down barriers between faculty, staff and students. Everybody is working together toward one goal.”
Additionally, The Campus Laboratory School of Carlow University sent their eighth graders to assist in meal packing.
“They were a significant part of the energy in the room,” Sister Sheila said.
Another benefit of the event, Sister Sheila said, is that some people might look on service as something that is not appealing.
“But this is an example of the fact that you can really enjoy yourself while you’re doing something that is very beneficial to so many people,” she said.
Sister Sheila said it’s also a great opportunity to volunteer in the community you move around in every day.
“I could go out this Saturday and do service by myself, but there’s an added bonus that enriches the encounter to do it with whom you work or study. It’s a shared experience to look back on,” she said.