WASHINGTON, D.C. — For a while now, not much has gone right for Mary Ogeltree, her husband, Derek, and their 16-year-old son, Darian, as they have faced financial problems due to job loss and various health crises over the past few years.
But the family living in suburban Washington sees a glimmer of hope in help from the food pantry at St. Hugh’s Parish in Greenbelt, Maryland, which receives a grant from funds it helps collect for Catholic Relief Services’ annual Lenten Rice Bowl program.
In 2017, nearly 14,000 Catholic parishes and schools across the U.S. participated in CRS Rice Bowl. The figures for participation in the program this year won’t be compiled until this summer, and though Lent 2018 has now passed, people can still give to the program via a link to the CRS program.
“At first, it’s embarrassing to say we needed help,” Mary Ogeltree told Catholic News Service in a phone interview after a recent hospital stay. She had fallen and broken her hip, femur and left knee; she also has long suffered from lupus and Crohn’s disease.
The family, residents of Greenbelt for about 17 years, has been grateful to get food to make their daily meals.
The Rice Bowl program encourages Catholics to give up a meal and donate the money saved to help fund development programs designed to increase food security across the globe. The money is collected in a homemade “rice bowl” or a cardboard one provided by CRS, which is the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency based in Baltimore.
Some 75 percent of the funds raised through CRS Rice Bowl support the organization’s programs around the world, including agriculture, water and sanitation, microfinance and education projects. The remaining 25 percent benefits the poor and hungry in the communities where those funds were raised, like St. Hugh’s.
The Ogeltree family went to the Greenbelt parish’s food pantry after Mary, and desperate for some assistance with at least family meals, remembered the help St. Hugh’s gave them one Christmas a while back. She learned the parish distributes food to families in need year-round.
Her husband is on disability — which gives them some income, she said. Derek made a living as a truck driver until he broke his hand and wrist, and then when Mary suffered a fall, she said, “everything compounded.”
When she and Derek went to St. Hugh’s pantry and saw what was in the bags they prepare for people in need, “I started crying,” she told CNS. “There were things my son would eat!” Beyond the food, which includes a variety of staples and even snacks for kids, she was grateful for something else from parish volunteers: unconditional help. “(We) don’t have to explain why we don’t have nothing,” she said.
In its first 40 years, more than $250 million has been given through CRS Rice Bowl to support programs that prevent hunger and poverty around the world. Of that, $62.5 million went to programs in the U.S. through local dioceses and $187.5 million went to CRS programs overseas.
“Sometimes people go through a rough time and you have to swallow your pride. It’s so nice to have that compassion and love” from St. Hugh’s, Mary added. “We’re Christian, we’re nondenominational — it wasn’t about being Catholic.”
Folks at St. Hugh’s told her: “We’re here because you are in need, you have children — and if we have it available, we’re happy to help.” That sentiment, Mary said, was “heartfelt and eye-opening for me to see they were caring about us, caring for family.”
The Ogeltrees visit the food pantry about once a month. “(We) make it work,” Mary said, “so as not to take away from someone who needs it worse than we do. … God is good and … I am just grateful someone is in our corner.”
Mary Ann Tretler, St. Hugh’s Rice Bowl coordinator, said that this year about a hundred children in the parish’s religious education program participated in the Rice Bowl effort.
CRS, which is the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development fund, provides a cardboard “rice bowl,” or it can be homemade, to be used to collect alms.
The parish’s Ladies of the Charity run the food pantry. It receives many donations of food, but it is “particularly helpful to have the grant to purchase items,” she said, especially during the summer months.
Currently the pantry helps about 20 families a week. Every Friday families can pick up grocery-size bags with food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Tretler described the children’s participation as “charity in action.”
The kids write messages on their rice bowls to describe what they gave up to donate to the effort. They also watch a series of CRS videos about the Rice Bowl program, Tretler said, “so the kids understand how incredibly blessed we are here, when you see how much a small amount of money can provide (to others).”