By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service     4/20/2020

WASHINGTON (CNS) Feeding the hungry — one of the Works of Mercy described by Jesus in Matthew 25 — unfolds every day in the outreach of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. 

But with the coronavirus outbreak and the resulting financial crisis impacting many individuals and families, the agency has seen a dramatic growth in the need for providing food to those in need in the nation’s capital and in surrounding Maryland counties. 

“It’s multiplied greatly,” said Scott Lewis, the executive director of Catholic Charities’ Enterprises, Education and Employment Department. 

As an example, he noted, “I was working three weeks ago at the Spanish Catholic Center’s food pantry in Washington, D.C., and we saw 54 families. This was just before the stay-at-home order (for D.C. residents).” 

On April 8 at that food pantry, Lewis said they served 200 families and expected to distribute another 200 food packages the following day — which amounts to a nearly eight-fold increase in less than a month. 

On Holy Thursday, April 9, Catholic Charities held a Virtual Food Drive to encourage Catholics to make online financial donations to help the agency meet the growth in the need for food assistance. 

For the agency, which is on the front lines of the fight against hunger in the Washington region all year round, the Virtual Food Drive, “is really important,” Lewis told the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper. Without it, “we wouldn’t have funding to support all this extra purchasing we needed to do and all the food distributions,” he said. 

In 2019 Catholic Charities provided more than 2.5 million meals to those in need and distributed more than 1 million pounds of food to local pantries. 

Across the Potomac River from Washington, in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, on a recent cold, rainy morning, a line of cars started at the back of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church, hugged the outline of the parking lot and stopped at the entrance. Those on foot formed a shorter line parallel to the cars. 

Volunteers wearing face masks and gloves worked under tents, putting dried beans, canned fruit and other goods into grocery bags. They urged recipients to stay in the cars as they themselves loaded car trunks with food.