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Hunger in ‘wine country’ – How one Napa Valley Catholic school is helping needy families

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Denver Newsroom, May 2, 2020 / 07:00 am MT (CNA).- A small Catholic school in Napa, California is drawing on community support to run a weekly food pantry for its families and neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Volunteers, led by the school board, have adapted Kolbe Academy & Trinity Prep— a K-12 school with just 105 students— into a food pantry for distribution every Wednesday.

Anna Hickey and Eric Muth— both alumni and school board members— helped to develop what they call the Agape Program, aiming to assist the school community spiritually and materially during the pandemic.

The pantry was able to serve more than 50 families on the first day it was open, April 22, Hickey and Muth told CNA.

After the first week, word spread quickly through the community.

“We contacted several local parishes who are now directing people with needs to our school,” Hickey said.

Teachers and families from the school have volunteered to help with food distribution— including one family who lined up to receive food, realized more help was needed, and put their food aside in order to volunteer for the rest of the day.

“As people hear about Agape, the generosity is now starting to match the need,” Hickey said.

For the first day of distribution, school board members bought a large amount of frozen chicken from a distributor. When they told the distributor it was for a food pantry,he donated nearly 700 additional pounds of steak, turkey, and chicken.

Hickey said the school thought their supply of meat would keep them well-stocked for several weeks, but the number of families seeking help turned out to be “overwhelming.”

The extra meat lasted just two and a half hours.

Muth said by the time the school held its second day of distributing food, the number of patrons in line had doubled to more than 100.

In order to comply with California’s strict social distancing orders, the school asked that only one family member come to pick up the food. This means that each person in line was likely representing a family of, on average, five people, Muth said.

Despite the additional demand, they also had more volunteers, and more food to give away— including a truck of fresh produce that a parishioner donated.

The Napa Valley is often regarded as an affluent area, but beyond the vineyards and tasting rooms are working class and poor families who are hurt by the economic downturn.

Many of the breadwinners for the Catholic school families in Napa work in the service industry— and in many cases, both parents have found themselves out of work, Hickey said.

In addition, some of the Catholic school families are ineligible for unemployment benefits because of their immigration status, she said.

Hickey and Muth hope to provide tuition assistance to needy families through the Agape initiative, so that families in need don’t find themselves forced to pull their children out of the Catholic school.

“Our Catholic schools are in trouble, and we really need to start seeing them as a mission,” Hickey said.

“Catholic education in our world today is a critical necessity. It’s not something that we should consider a luxury…if we want to change society, if we want to make sure that we have future pro-lifers, then we’d better make darn sure that we keep Catholic education going.”

Another phase of the initiate will involve high school students reaching out to the elderly and lonely in the community.

“If we don’t help others first, there’s no way we can ever ask for help again,” she said.

“Our moral obligation is to extend help, even in the fear of us closing down— extend help first, and then ask for help.”

That approach has ultimately paid off— the school has received many donations since starting the food pantry, they said, even from non-Catholic members of the community who recognize the good work the school is doing.

“God will take care of us if we have some trust and faith in Him,” Muth said.

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