by Gregory Kepferle

This spring, a new ritual has emerged in several parishes throughout the Diocese of San Jose.

Church parking lots are full, sometimes several times over. More and more families are coming to the church every week. And not just Catholic families. Each family is greeted kindly and registered respectfully. Some attendees, without knowing the source, pray a version of the line from the Lord’s Prayer – “Give us this day our daily bread.” “Please, God, let there be enough food today for me to feed my family.”

Yet, none of the people coming to church step inside the building. They remain in their cars as the ritual unfolds — The parking, the greeting, the registration, the procession to waiting servers, the opening of the trunk, the receiving of the gift of food, a thanksgiving and final blessing, and a sending forth. A true liturgy of diakonia. The work of the people in service to others.

But these ministers of service aren’t ordained, rather they are fellow lay parishioners, teachers, students, moms and dads, and neighbors. Nor do they wear white robes. Rather they are garbed in safety vests, masks and gloves. They also have their own ritual of preparation. As they register to volunteer, each is asked about their health and that of their household. Each must wash or sanitize their hands and have a temperature reading taken before being given their assigned task. Food handlers don’t touch the cars. Car monitors don’t touch the food. And all are required to ritually maintain at least six feet away from one another.

Due to the shelter in place order to fight the pandemic and the subsequent economic collapse and with Eucharist celebrated only remotely, thousands are flocking to churches for food to feed their families. This in-person feast of thanksgiving, the drive through food distribution, is a new way that the Church in Santa Clara County is bringing Christ’s healing presence to over ten thousand hungry people each week.

Thanks to the support of Bishop Cantú and the willingness of pastors to open their parishes, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County’s staff and parish and community volunteers distribute food boxes provided by Second Harvest Silicon Valley, currently at seven parishes, with at least five more ready to join this effort. This weekly ritual of feeding the hungry is thanks to the pastors, staff and parishioners at Our Lady of Refuge, Santa Teresa, Saint John Vianney, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Lucy, Most Holy Trinity and Our Lady of Peace. With the leadership and guidance of Father Jon Pedigo, Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement, and of Araceli Gonzalez, Director of Disaster Recovery Services, Catholic Charities plans to deepen and expand its partnerships with parishes to serve those affected by the pandemic and the economic crisis.

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Gregory Kepferle is CEO, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County and President, Charities Housing Development Corporation Catholic Charities is the Church’s official disaster response agency.