Catholic Relief Services' Helping Hands program allows high schoolers to see those in need as 'family'

DETROIT — When Crystal Ramirez-Garcia arrived at St. Charles Lwanga Parish on Saturday, she knew she would be making a big impact by helping package food to make 10,000 meals for families in Burkina Faso, Africa.

After just a few hours, the Detroit Cristo Rey High School eleventh grader realized even 10,000 meals wasn’t enough.

The event was part of an effort supported by Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon in association with Catholic Relief Services' Helping Hands program, gathering young volunteers to help package the dry goods for distribution.

“Such a small task can impact so many people, and if only 80 or fewer people can make 10,000 meals, imagine what a whole student body can do and how that can impact others,” Ramirez-Garcia told Detroit Catholic.

Ramirez-Garcia is part of the student council at Detroit Cristo Rey, which sent several students to help during the Saturday morning event. 

Students from Detroit Cristo Rey and other inner-city Catholic schools package meals for families in Burkina Faso during the Catholic Relief Services Helping Hands event May 4.

Joyce Francois, Central Region youth ministry coordinator for the Archdiocese of Detroit, said the goal of the event was to teach the students about solidarity.

“The idea of the Helping Hands project is seeing the enormity of what they are doing when they come together for a common cause,” Francois added.

CRS Helping Hands is a Catholic volunteer and formation event that allows participants to serve others overseas in a tangible way, according to the CRS Helping Hands website. The volunteers package meals to send to people who suffer from chronic hunger as a result of cyclical drought and flooding in the African nation of Burkina Faso, where one of every five people is at risk for food insecurity.

Bishop Hanchon said he wanted to bring the project to the attention of Detroit's youth to spark the kind of passion that inspired Ramirez-Garcia to seek to do more. 

The event is a practical way for the youth to visualize their contribution, which can have an emotional impact on young Catholics, he added. 

Seeing so many people banding together to help the less fortunate allows them to “feel like a responsible sister or brother to people around the world — that if they are confronted with poverty around the world, their first reaction is ‘I want to be a sister or a brother,’” Bishop Hanchon said.

Seeing others around the globe as family members puts such glaring need into perspective, the bishop added.

Bishop Hanchon addresses the young volunteers during the CRS Helping Hands food-packaging event May 4 at St. Charles Lwanga.

“Family is important,” Bishop Hanchon said. “You do whatever you can for family. That’s a bond that really matters, and you have to invest yourself in it. To say, ‘That stranger is part of my family’ is what I’m aiming for.”

As he was preparing to confirm students over the weekend, he also noted that “service is part of our DNA as Christians” and that there is a need to remember the importance of Pope Francis’ call to be in service to one another.

St. Charles Lwanga catechist Joi Hunter said she offered the parish's community hall as the location to host the food packaging event and encouraged her confirmation class to attend the event. 

“Part of confirmation is service,” Hunter explained. “The students are learning about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Feeding the poor is a corporal work of mercy.”

She added “it was a real hands-on experience of feeding the hungry.”

Sundeara Moore, a 13-year-old confirmation student at Most Holy Trinity School in Detroit, appreciated attending the event.

“It’s important for every child to be in service in some type of way,” Sundeara added. “Serving God is really about serving others. You are a child of God, and you have to respect every person as if it were God himself.”

Rameriz-Garcia agreed.

“I think it’s pretty important, as Catholics, to help people we don’t even know,” Rameriz-Garcia said. “We are all connected. We are all brothers and sisters, no matter our distance.”