By Jack Cherico
I was born and raised in Westchester County, N.Y., which is 45 minutes north of New York City. Eight communities in Westchester County are ranked on Bloomberg News’ 200 wealthiest places in the country. I have been very blessed with access to a private Catholic education, a wonderful family, and many other opportunities not afforded to most of our nation’s citizens. Most people from Westchester County do not know that much about poverty, and certainly have not experienced it, nor hunger or homelessness.
This past summer, I was fortunate to be selected as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) intern with the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Life, Peace, and Justice. The campaign is actually an organization under the umbrella of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is our domestic Church’s response to address the root causes of poverty. I was able to learn about many of the reasons for poverty and, more importantly, how we as Catholics are called to accompany the poor.
My own “accompanying experience” as a part of my internship was working one day a week at the Neil Good Day Center at Father Joe’s Villages. Some of the services at the center for the unsheltered homeless people living in downtown include providing storage space, connecting with a housing coordinator, and access to food, showers and mail services. In a very limited but very “eye-opening” way, I had the opportunity to serve and accompany some of the city’s homeless men and women. It was humbling for me to witness that something as basic as checking my mailbox for the daily mail or getting a hot shower is not always available for this population.
Additionally, I had the opportunity to witness what people in our most marginalized community, the prison population, have to carry with them every day. I corresponded with many prisoners during my 10-week internship, and learned that most California prisoners are indigent, and very rarely have family or loved ones available to support or accompany them.
Through my correspondence with prisoners, I learned how even a simple gift that the Office for Life, Peace, and Justice could provide, such as a packet of ramen noodles or a new toothbrush, is received with love and gratitude. I also learned how important it is for prisoners to have contact with the outside world and know that someone cares about them — even loves them! Writing to prisoners was one of my favorite experiences during my internship because every inmate I wrote responded promptly and asked about who I am, what were my interests, and where I lived. I learned that the inmates were genuinely interested in me, and longed to establish a relationship with someone who cared about them.
Lastly, I came to realize we are blessed with an abundance of food in our nation, yet people are still are going hungry every day. I spent a week working with Catholic Charities of San Diego’s Emergency Food Distribution Network, distributing food to parishes all over San Diego County. I learned that some individuals and families rely on organizations like Catholic Charities to receive basic food and support. I now realize that we do not have a food scarcity issue in our country but a food distribution problem, and our Church is doing its part to support and accompany those most in need.
Through my experience in this internship, I have more understanding and compassion for our poor, our imprisoned, and our homeless brothers and sisters. I am grateful and humbled that I was able to put my faith into action!
Jack Cherico is a sophomore at the Catholic University of America (CUA), majoring in Political Science, and serves in Army Reserve Officer Training Corps there.