The Face of Christ: My Time with Catholic Charities during the Pandemic

Feb 9, 2021

Thomas Poznanski

In the summer of 2020, I had the privilege of working at several food distribution locations offered by Catholic Charities. Before participating in this ministry, I heard of Catholic Charities but did not realize the full extent of the services this ministry provides. Catholic Charities has two soup kitchens, ten food pantries, six single room occupancy (SRO) residences, four domestic violence shelters, and in light of the recent COVID-19 crisis, the ministry also includes mass food distributions at various locations throughout the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

June 15th was the first day of my summer practicum with Catholic Charities. Considering this was my first time participating in a mass food distribution service, I wanted to familiarize myself with how we were going to carry out serving our guests traveling either by car or walk-in’s. I had the opportunity to meet Sister Betsy, who I only knew by way of email previously, and it was a pleasure to meet her.

Sister Betsy had a well-designed plan, which even included a hand-drawn map illustrating where the pallets would be placed and how to safely direct all of our guests. Her plan was so detailed that she had teams assigned to different tasks: one team broke the pallets of food down and placed the contents of the pallets on nearby tables; another team packed and helped deliver the food to the trunks of the vehicles for those who were driving; and lastly another team tracked the number of “care packages” that were being distributed.

I specifically chose the word “care packages” because that is exactly what the boxes and bags of food were: care packages. The COVID-19 crisis turned the world upside-down in that people found themselves being furloughed or possibly no longer employed. The natural response in times like this is care, so the name “care packages” seems absolutely appropriate.

When the pandemic first came about, one of the keywords I consistently heard from news reports was the word “essential.” It was used in the context of identifying services that were necessary for the day-to-day operations of our society. One of the essential services was mass food distribution, and Catholic Charities ministers to an almost innumerable amount of families.

So many of our recent experiences related to the COVID-19 crisis constitute a type of formation. As a society we have learned what is essential and what we can do without. Undoubtably, the most essential thing every person needs is God’s grace. By God’s graces we are given food to share and the gift of each other to help bear one another’s burdens.

The time I spent with Catholic Charities was about community – the community that I love, and the community that truly gives life to the meaning of the word “essential.” We are all children of God and as His children we are called “to love thy neighbor as thyself” and to be stewards to one another, especially during these very unique times. My experience reminds me of Matthew 25: 35 where it is written, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

May I draw your attention to the verse where Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food.” I believe Jesus was referring to the word “food” in two contexts: food for the body, and food for the soul. Food for the soul is found in the Word of God and in our relationship with Jesus, and that relationship is expressed outwardly by how we care for and help one another.

Every person who came to visit that day was the face of Christ and they were hungry both literally and figuratively. Literally in the sense that they were in need of food; figuratively in that some might not have family or friends to talk with during this time of social distancing. The interaction with the volunteers at Catholic Charities might have been the only social interaction that our guests have had over the past several months.

For me, this is what it means to be a Deacon: to meet people where they are and walk with them, but to also bring the needs of the community to the altar and pray for the community. The pandemic turned our world upside down. However, even amid these strange times, we find expressions of care for one another, and Catholic Charities is a beautiful example of charity. The time I spent with Catholic Charities has enriched me greatly, and I am very grateful to have been part of this ministry.

Thomas Poznanski is married to his beautiful wife, Patricia, and is a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies student and third-year candidate in the Diaconate process. He will be ordained in May of 2021 and looks forward to applying his studies to the diaconate as a servant of Christ.