Stamping out hunger is one of the core missions of the Viatorians. Consequently, as COVID-19 cases mount and unemployment numbers spike, local food pantries are seeing record demand, especially by first-time pantry visitors.

Teens help sort the overwhelming donations.

Yet Viatorian parishes are responding.

For the 29th year, the youth ministry group at Maternity BVM Parish in Bourbonnais sponsored its annual Harvest Sunday food drive. Over the years, the drive has become the  largest collection of its kind in the Kankakee County.

“It was an overwhelming response,” says Cassandra McCullough, Youth Ministry Director. “It was amazing because we had the full support of parishioners of all ages, not just teens, but their parents and grandparents, too.”

Volunteers included confirmation students, high school and junior high students, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, as well as the adults.

Julie Worby, Director of Advancement for the parish, said they added routes this year and they worried about getting enough volunteers to cover them.

These young “runners” take a break to pose for a photo.

“We thought if we could get enough volunteers to cover 10 routes, we’d be blessed,” she said. “But we got all 36 routes covered. We canvassed the entire village of Bourbonnais.”

Literally, volunteer drivers — and their teenage runners — spread out across every neighborhood in Bourbonnais. On Nov. 1, they circulated flyers about the collection and on Nov. 8 they returned to pick up donations — and all adhering to the COVID restrictions in place.

The food pantry shelves at Maternity BVM are fully restocked now.

“Everyone was so generous,” McCullough adds. “One family put out 10 bags of food to be picked up.”

The response included picking up food , toiletries and baby supplies donated by local families. Local Viatorian parishes also held drives on-site, including St. George Parish, led by Fr. Dan Belanger, CSV, and St. Patrick Church, led by Fr. John Peeters, CSV. Associates Ken and Michelle Barrie lead youth groups at these parishes, and together with their energetic teens, they coordinated these drives.

Donations go to a dozen food pantries and resource centers throughout Kankakee County, including those run by parishes in Bourbonnais and Kankakee, where they are seeing unprecedented demand. At the food pantry at Maternity BVM, its shelves literally were bare just two weeks ago, McCullough added, but now are fully stocked thanks to its parishioners working together to feed the hungry.