SAN DIEGO — There are about 120 permanent deacons in active ministry in the Diocese of San Diego.
But, even with those numbers, the “Million Meal Event” is an ambitious undertaking.
The deacons and their wives are spearheading the diocese-wide charitable project, through which more than 170,000 food packages will be prepared during one weekend in June. With each package containing enough food for multiple meals, that’s more than 1 million nutritious meals for individuals and families living in extreme poverty in Mexico, the Philippines and Africa.
The event won’t take place until the June 11-12 weekend at Cathedral Catholic High School, but the deacons already have their work cut out for them. In the coming months, they will have to raise at least $250,000 and recruit 3,000 volunteers.
They hope to raise half of the money from major donors and event sponsors, and the other half in smaller donations from participating parishes. The funds will cover the cost of the red lentils, rice, vitamins and seasonings that comprise each food package, as well as the cost of shipping the prepared packages.
Materials and equipment will be provided by the deacons’ partner in this effort, the nonprofit organization Kids Around the World, Inc. The packaged meals will be sent to the Casa de los Pobres in Tijuana, Mexico, as well as to charities in the Philippines and Africa.
Each deacon will be responsible for promoting the event, raising funds and recruiting a team of about 75 volunteers at his own parish.
There will be three two-hour shifts during the Million Meal Event – Saturday, 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. – during which the volunteers will work in small groups in assembly-line fashion.
The event’s lead organizer, Deacon Mike Daniels of St. Brigid Parish in Pacific Beach, promises a festive atmosphere with music playing as the volunteers do their work. Food and drink also will be available. All ages are welcome, from young children to grandparents.
Deacon Daniels acknowledged that it will be a challenge to raise the $250,000 at a time when parish collections are already down because of decreased Mass attendance during the pandemic.
“We’ll know on May 1 how much money we raised and we’ll know how many volunteers we have,” said Deacon Daniels, “and, if we have to scale the event back, we will. But I don’t think we’re going to have to.”
St. Brigid Parish, Sacred Heart Parish in Coronado, and St. James Parish in Solana Beach have each held their own single-day food-packaging events. Those successes provided the inspiration for this diocese-wide event.
St. Brigid’s parishioner Caroline Kelner brought the idea of a food-packaging event to her parish, where it was done from 2014 through 2019. (The pandemic brought an end to the tradition.) Deacon Daniels asked her to serve on the planning committee for the Million Meal Event.
“I am so excited for this event to happen, and how it presents the opportunity for children to learn about our Christian responsibility to help others in need,” she said.
Deacons Kevin Murray of Sacred Heart Parish and Jim Scull of Ascension Parish in Tierrasanta are assisting Deacon Daniels with organizing the Million Meal Event.
Deacon Murray recalled the food-packaging events that have been held over the past few years at his parish, where up to 75,000 meals have been packaged in one Saturday morning.
“These events have been fun, energetic days in which all the members of the parish came together to help the needy. … People of all ages were able to make a difference in the lives of others, in response to Jesus’ call to feed the hungry,” he said.
Deacon Scull is confident about the Million Meal Event’s chances for success.
“I have seen the Holy Spirit work with resounding power again and again in my own parish, especially when an invitation is put forth to help with a charitable event,” he said.
Though deacons are engaged throughout the year in their own service projects, the Million Meal Event represents the first time they have all been invited to participate in a single, diocese-wide endeavor.
Deacon Scull hopes the event will help others to understand what diaconal ministry is about.
“I have always thought that a diocesan-wide service event led by and participated in by deacons in every parish could help our faithful see more clearly our diaconal identity as the icon of ‘Christ the Servant,’” he said.
For more information, ask your parish’s deacon about participating in this project. To register to help pack meals and donate funds, visit sdcatholic.org/millionmeals.