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An Unexpected Opportunity to put Gospel Values into Action

This article originally appeared in the Catholic Missourian. READ THE FULL ARTICLE ONLINE: Catholic Missourian.

By Jay Nies

Safe in their cars, people from all around formed a procession through the grounds of St. Martin Church in St. Martins.

Each stopped and gave thanks as members of the Frassati Fraternity loaded boxes of food into their trunk.

The young men — mostly students and graduates of Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City — with their parents’ permission were staffing a mobile food distribution center sponsored by the Food Bank of Central & Northeast Missouri and the United Way of Central Missouri.

Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri (CCCNMO) helped bring them all together.

“It’s something I didn’t expect to be doing. It’s pretty awesome!” said Helias Catholic senior Jonathan Dolan.

“It’s good to be able to get out and do something meaningful,” said Helias Catholic graduate Jacob Hartman, a seminarian for the Jefferson City diocese, who is home from studying at Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, Texas.

Wearing Catholic Charities T-shirts and caps, the young men worked at tables set up on both sides of one of the Food Bank’s refrigerator trucks.

Maintaining safe distance from one another and the visitors, they unloaded the food, packaged components for several family meals into boxes and bags, and loaded them into the trunks and tailgates of people who needed it.

The supplemental food is always welcome for people whose paychecks don’t go far enough, but it’s particularly helpful in this time of business shutdowns and layoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Food Bank and United Way operate mobile food pantries each month in several locations throughout Central Missouri.

Jami Wade with the Food Bank of Central & Northeast Missouri shared with CCCNMO Executive Director Dan Lester her concern that a shortage of volunteers would lead to canceling this month’s three-hour food distribution in St. Martins.

Mr. Lester called Father Joshua Duncan, part-time associate pastor at Immaculate Conception parish in Jefferson City and chaplain at Helias Catholic, who is a coordinator of the Frassati Fraternity.

It took the priest less than two hours to field enough volunteers.

Mr. Dolan noted that he and his schoolmates have been out of school and learning at home for over a week.

“You’ve gotta’ do something, so you might as well be out here helping somebody,” he said.

“Where we’re needed now”

Helias Catholic sophomore Logan Matthews noted that young people have been found to be less susceptible to the coronavirus.

“We have an obligation to do what we can because older people of our community are more affected by this than we are,” he said.

Chad Volmert, a sophomore at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Hannibal, relished the opportunity to help people while he’s home from school.

“Since the coronavirus, we can’t go face to face, person to person,” he noted. “So we’re having cars pull up so we can get around the coronavirus and still give people the food they need.”

Mr. Hartman said he enjoyed taking part in community-service projects at Helias, “so this really takes me back.”

Helias Catholic sophomore Connor McDaniel said helping people is the best thing he and his friends could be doing that day.

“This is where we’re needed right now,” he said, “and it’s a great day to be out here.”

A good lesson

Helias Catholic High School Assistant Principal Dwayne Clingman, who was helping oversee the operation, noted that Helias students are staying busy with their studies, even though school is closed due to the pandemic.

“They have homework,” he said. “We have everybody online. They do Zoom calls and we have Google Classroom. They’re going to class and taking tests.”

He believes the sudden changes resulting from the pandemic and the community’s response are a good lesson for young people about how life can change overnight.

He hopes they’ll respond by giving thanks for how fortunate they are, lifting everyone up in prayer, keeping the faith and “doing whatever we need to do and helping out in any way we can.”

“Pray for everyone”

Frassati Fraternity members get together on Sundays for prayer and fellowship and an occasional game of football or basketball.

“It’s a good way for us to help each other grow in faith,” said Helias Catholic sophomore Cody Cassmeyer.

A natural result of that faith is service.

“This is something I’m willing to do for people in need,” said Mr. Cassmeyer. “I’m blessed with many gifts, so it’s a chance for me to help those who are not as fortunate as I am.”

Mr. McDaniel said it’s important not only to help people but to pray for them.

“We should pray for everyone, even ourselves,” he said. “You can never tell how bad someone else has it.”

“Sincere gift”

Mr. Matthews said he was acutely aware of God’s presence through the whole time he and his friends were helping out.

“I always find great joy in serving other people, especially at things like this,” he said. “I really think it’s God calling me to do this, giving me that joy and the ability to do this.”

Mr. Volmert agreed: “God is all over this,” he said. “As Pope St. John Paul II would say, ‘Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.’”

Mr. Cassmeyer said he recognized God’s presence in his fellow volunteers, in the people and organizations that provided the food and helped organize the mobile distribution, and especially in the people being served.

“I get to have them bless me with their smiles and their thank-yous,” he said. “Besides, I’m having a blast and I’m glad to be here.”

Summoned to sainthood

Fr. Duncan said he sees the young man embody the spirit of their group’s namesake, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-25), who was a devout Catholic and ardent advocate for the poor.

“Especially their attitude, their eagerness, their joy, their willingness to help out in any capacity,” said Fr. Duncan.

Blessed Frassati dedicated himself to the service of people in need — “even those who were very critically ill,” the priest noted.

Fr. Duncan said  frequent service opportunities help the young men dedicate themselves to a life of service for others, rather than simply fulfilling their own needs, their own immediate desires.

“That’s what I’m seeing right here,” said Fr. Duncan. “They’re thinking outside themselves at this critical time.”

He noted that everyone, no matter his or her vocation, is called to be a saint.

“These guys take it seriously,” he said. “They’re going to be amazing husbands, fathers, and maybe some of them, God-willing, priests, someday.”