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Youths and corporations unite to feed the hungry at World Meeting of Families
John W. Callahan Catholic Girls High School students cheer as the bell gongs alerting everyone that another 1,000 meals have been assembled during the Day of Service at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. Over the next three days, volunteers will pack and send more than 200,000 meals to families in need in West Africa and provide canned goods to local residents. - photo by Lois M. Collins
PHILADELPHIA Rosario Ramos, Nahirannette Pulido and Noah Teaglebarmore may never meet or exchange a word of greeting. But Wednesday morning, they banded together with hundreds of others attending the World Meeting of Families to package food to ship to West Africa.

"Service is a hobby of mine," said Pulido, a junior at John W. Hallahan Catholic High School for Girls here, where WMOF is being held.

Teaglebarmore, a freshman, is one of 50 students volunteering from Roman Catholic High School for Boys, where school minister Matt Wayoch said students must each provide 20 hours of service a year.

Ramos traveled alone from Hilo, Hawaii, to meet up with a group from Honolulu to attend the triennial meeting, this year's co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family (based in Rome) and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. While she came for the conference, the service project helps complete an important circle for her. Her best friend just returned from providing hands-on service in the West African community that will receive the food. "I am so excited for what she is doing on the other end and what I'm doing on this one," Ramos said.

Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families, said including service to those in need was a critical part of planning the massive conference, which has nearly 18,000 registered. "When we started planning, we were not sure the pope would be coming, but we wanted to weave his message through" the gathering, she told the Deseret News. "We knew service is at the top of his list."

Meanwhile, just blocks away, others were processing donations of food dropped off at Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic School. It will be distributed to food pantries in Philadelphia by Nutritional Development Services.

Feeding those who hunger resonates with her, she said. "Parents not being able to feed their children breaks my heart."

Conference participants were encouraged to sign up to help the students and other volunteers because the world meeting provides intellectual and spiritual tools to families, but service lets them "roll up their sleeves, put on a hairnet and get to work to make a difference," Crilley Farrell said.

They joined forces with the Helping Hands meal packaging program, which was developed as a joint project of Catholic Relief Services and Stop Hunger Now. PECO, a natural gas and electric utility subsidiary of Exelon Corporation, rallied corporate volunteers from its ranks, who were joined by others. PECO also provided financial backing. Five high schools were drafted, including Saint Hubert Catholic High School for Girls, Father Judge Catholic High School for Boys, and Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School.

"In connecting students to a worthy cause such as Helping Hands, they have the opportunity to strengthen their faith by fostering charity and justice," said Christopher Mominey, chief operating officer and secretary for Catholic education for the archdiocese. "As these students offer their time today, it is our hope that they are encouraged to continue this tradition of love and service throughout their lives."

The students were way ahead of that hope. Morgan Allen, a sophomore, and Simone Overton, a senior, both at Hallahan, said they have done lots of service both for school and outside of it. They've exceeded requirements regarding spiritual, in-school and outside social justice service, they agreed.

They got a sense of where their donation will end up, as well. Thomas Awiapo works for Catholic Relief Services in Ghana and described the deprivation in his early life, similar to what those who will eat the meals experience still. He was hungry as a child. He needed kindness and the very type of help he now arranges for others and that such food provision offers. "I have been blessed with a wife and four children," he said. "They are all in school. They don't need a snack. An act of kindness can change the world."

Mominey referred to a saint who said that how people live may be the only gospel some people ever read. He told the students they are providing the gospel of service, love and compassion.