Madonna students prepare 40,000 meals bound for Guatemala during service day

Franciscan Day of Service project at St. Priscilla fosters sense of community engagement for first-year students at Livonia university

LIVONIA  On Friday, about 100 Madonna University students went around the corner to help people around the world. 

The Livonia-based Catholic university celebrated its annual Franciscan Day of Service on Oct. 8 at St. Priscilla Parish in Livonia, packaging 40,000 meals for the poor in Guatemala, a Central American country whose food infrastructure has been devastated by the pandemic.  

The event was sponsored by Cross Catholic Outreach, an international nonprofit that hosts around 20 food packing events a year to serve the poor in 33 countries. 

“We have these Faith in Action activities for anyone who is interested,” Karen Saum, marketing strategist for Cross Catholic Outreach, told Detroit Catholic. “The meals are packed by volunteers who have it in their heart to help feed the hungry, a corporal work of mercy, to then be distributed by Cross Catholic Outreach to those around the world who are in need of food.” 

Karin Saum, marketing strategist for Cross Catholic Outreach, told Detroit Catholic the organization hosts 20 food packaging events each year for the poor in 33 countries.

Each individual package contained rice, beans, soy, and dried and dehydrated vegetables, designed specifically to hold up in Guatemala’s climate. Each package is designed to feed a family of six. 

Cross Catholic Outreach was founded by Floridian Jim Cavnar to transform communities around the world with material and spiritual assistance. The organization gives underdeveloped nations the ingredients and tools to begin a path to self-sufficiency, said June Lawrence, development officer with Cross Catholic Outreach.  

“Cross Catholic Outreach has a special partnership with people and organizations down in Guatemala,” Lawrence said. “Places like Guatemala have been extremely hard hit, with no food on the ground, so the focus is to lift them to a place where they can feed their families, get healthy again and help them with other aspects like housing, water, medical aid, education, everything.” 

Debbie Ganot of Cross Catholic Outreach, Sr. Nancy Janroz, OSF, and June Lawrence, development officer at Cross Catholic Outreach, pose for a photo during the 40,000 Meals for Guatemala food packaging event at St. Priscilla Parish.

Beyond the pandemic, Guatemala has been racked with investigations and sanctions by the United States Department of State, including actions against Maria Consuelo Porras Argueta De Porres, the country’s attorney general, for obstructing investigations into acts of corruption and criminal investigations. 

The United States is Guatemala’s largest trading partner, but the economic slowdown in the States has hampered the food supply to the country, making Cross Catholic Outreach’s work all the more pressing. 

“Guatemala is an agrarian country, but right now, people aren’t able to go to the market like they normally do to sell their food or get the materials they need to make sure they have food,” Lawrence said. “Everything has been affected by the shutdown of the economy, plus there is a high infection rate in Guatemala, including with some of our mission partners. So it’s a trying time in Guatemala.” 

The meals were prepared by Madonna University students who organized themselves into 12 teams of seven to eight people who stored and packaged the meals in an assembly-line like manner.  

Madonna University students work together as a team to package food. More than 100 students took part in the Franciscan Day of Service, many of them fulfilling service requirements during their first year at the university.

“The Franciscan Day of Service every year at Madonna is a day where we demonstrate our Franciscan values,” said Cheyenne Justice, a junior forensic science student at Madonna and a peer mentor for the school’s First Year Experience UNV 1020 classes, which center around community service. 

“We got out into the community as groups and do things like this,” Justice said. “We do stuff at the school, also. People put up a bird house and butterfly houses at the school, and we have another group turning plastic bags into blankets.” 

The first-year community service credits, which are required for Madonna students, intrigued Justice, and now she’s a regular volunteer and helps new students with service projects. 

“In my freshman year, I painted a boys home they were redoing,” Justice said. “I think getting out in the community, seeing the impact you make is nice, and I really just thought it would be cool to continue doing it, so that’s why I become a peer mentor.” 

Service events like the one at St. Priscilla Parish are part of Madonna’s Transition to Higher Education course, where students are required to complete service projects as part of their transition to university life. 

Allison Mullins, a freshman at Madonna, took the class as part of her Transition to Higher Education, the university’s program to help new students adjust to Madonna’s culture of service. Students are required to complete a certain number of service hours before continuing on with the rest of the curriculum. 

“It helps lead us into college,” Mullins said. “It’s the first class you take to prepare you for what’s coming ahead. With today being the Franciscan Day of Service, we’re all throughout the city; some of us are on campus or at other churches and venues. We’re creating bonds as we learn what Madonna is all about.” 

Seeing college students step out of the classroom to help people in need encourages Lawrence, who sees the event as a sample of what future leaders in the Church and world can do.  

“This is something the Catholic community has always been doing, so I’m pleased young people are giving up their time and energy to do this,” Lawrence said. “That young people want to do this, it shows the Church isn’t just walls; it’s people committed to social outreach and social justice who are part of the mission.”  

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