Women prepare Vitafood for the elderly at an assisted living home in Haiti.
Women prepare Vitafood for the elderly at an assisted living home in Haiti.

Fighting Malnutrition by Feeding the Hungry With Vitafood

An estimated 820 million people around the world do not have enough to eat, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That’s because extreme poverty prevents many families from buying the food they need or obtaining the resources required to farm their own. Climate conditions and violent conflicts also play a role in destroying crops, displacing families and exacerbating global hunger.

The coronavirus pandemic has created significant issues as well, with lockdowns and shutdowns leaving even more people in poverty and unable to access urgently needed food supplies. Already, the number of people living in poverty has increased by 120 million, and the World Bank projects that 30 million more will fall below the international poverty line (living on $1.90 or less per day) before the end of 2021.

Tragically, vulnerable populations — especially children — are the ones who are most devastated by this hunger crisis; in fact, children represent half of the world’s poor. With malnutrition on the rise, the Church is eager to find sustainable solutions that will feed the hungry and share the mercy of Christ with those who are suffering. One way that Cross Catholic Outreach contributes to these relief efforts is by cost-effectively sourcing, packing and shipping Vitafood — a product that is making a profound difference and providing millions of meals each year.

Mothers mix formula for children at Marie Louise Bayle Center in Ouanaminthe, Haiti.
Vitafood is designed to meet the needs of the malnourished. It can even be ground up and mixed in with formula to help children meet their nutritional milestones.

What Is Vitafood?

Vitafood is the generic name for all of Cross Catholic Outreach’s specially formulated meal packs, which are designed to meet the needs of the malnourished. Though we receive Vitafood from different sources, each source develops the Vitafood with three main components, including:

  • A rice, potato or lentil base.
  • A protein (usually soy or beans).
  • Key vitamins to energize, strengthen and improve the health of malnourished children and families.

These meal packs are an extremely flexible resource. They come in several different varieties and can be prepared with additional spices or ingredients to suit local tastes. No matter how it is prepared, Vitafood’s nutritional value remains the same, providing the optimal balance of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, fat and carbohydrates that hungry bodies need.

Shipping containers carrying Vitafood.
Each 40-foot shipping container of Vitafood contains about 272,160 meals.

From Here to There: The Process of Sourcing, Packing, Shipping and Distributing Vitafood

Cross Catholic Outreach receives donations of Vitafood coordinated by well-respected international aid organizations. Sometimes, these donations arrive prepacked in airtight bags, ready to ship. At other times, we receive the components for Vitafood separately — the rice, potato or lentil base, the beans or soy powder and the vitamin-rich vegetable mix. In these circumstances, local parishes, schools and other organizations help prepare the Vitafood for shipment at our Food Packing Events. These events provide an incredible opportunity for U.S. Catholics to put their faith into action and engage in the revolution against world hunger. They also make the packing process extremely cost-effective, freeing up more resources for shipping and distribution to hungry families.

Once the Vitafood packets are sealed, they are packed into 40-foot shipping containers, placed on cargo ships and sent to international ports. Each container holds about 272,160 servings of Vitafood (approximately six meals per packet), which are picked up by our trusted distribution partners and delivered to Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, orphanages and other programs that directly serve the needy in their communities.

Join the movement to feed the hungry through the love of Christ!

Volunteers prepare meals at a Knights of Columbus food packing event.
The Knights of Columbus have helped coordinate many Food Packing Events like this one, which took place in February.

Participant Testimony: Feeding the Hungry Through a Food Packing Event

At each Food Packing Event, volunteers from parishes, schools and other organizations help prepare many thousands of Vitafood meals. Scott Nale, the former Knights of Columbus state deputy for West Virginia, has served at several of these events and shared with us what an inspiration the program has been.

“Once you do this, you want to do it again and again and again,” Scott said. “This is my fourth time. I was excited all week to be able to come up here and do this because it’s just such a rewarding experience. So, as a result of these, we’ve seen tremendous charitable outreach from the state of West Virginia.”

The Knights of Columbus help us coordinate several of these Food Packing Events each year, and the impact of their service is always incredible. As Scott expressed, these events provide an engaging, hands-on opportunity to make a tangible difference and serve those in need.

“It’s awesome to be able to partner with Cross Catholic and make this kind of impact on the world,” Scott said. “We know these people need the help. We know we want to help them. But sometimes it’s hard to find that right way to do it. And this program, because you can get into it, elbow deep in beans or whatever it is, it’s a real impactful way to be involved and make a change.”

Donate to Make a Difference

Jorge Gramajo distributes Vitafood in Guatemala.
Dr. Jorge Gramajo of Friends for Health and Life prepares to distribute lifesaving Vitafood to hungry families affected by COVID-19.

Partner Spotlight: Friends for Health and Life

During the previous fiscal year, Cross Catholic Outreach shipped Vitafood to 16 distribution partners in nine countries. One of those partners was Friends for Health and Life, a longtime partner in Guatemala that distributes our shipments of aid among 285 Catholic health clinics, 340 municipalities and multiple Catholic dioceses.

Friends for Health and Life founder Dr. Jorge Gramajo has dedicated his life to serving the poorest of the poor. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jorge played an instrumental role in making sure the most vulnerable families were not abandoned to hunger. Unwilling to wait for the indefinite lockdown to end, Friends for Health and Life redoubled its efforts to distribute Vitafood sent by Cross Catholic Outreach. It also sent emergency aid to areas most affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota.

This support arrived as a miraculous blessing for mothers like Emilia Yoc, 64. Emilia lives with her husband and children in the small village of Piedras Negras, located in the Dry Corridor, an extremely poor region 110 miles southeast of Guatemala City. Like all the residents of Piedras Negras, Emilia’s family was extremely poor before the pandemic but still managed to make enough money to put food on the table. That all changed with COVID-19.

Before the pandemic, Emilia cleaned homes in the city of Jalapas while her husband worked in the fields. Then the pandemic hit, and Emilia and her family were quarantined and were left without the ability to work. According to Jorge, this left the family destitute.

“They had very little food to eat before COVID-19,” he said. “Once the pandemic hit, they had no food at all, nor did they have seeds to plant for next season’s harvest.”

When Jorge presented Emilia with a bag of Vitafood meal packs, she broke down in tears. She could not believe someone would be willing to give her food without expecting any money.

Emilia proclaimed, “The Virgin Mary heard my prayers!”

Related: Cross Catholic Outreach staff would love to pray for you. Share your intentions!

Family praying over Vitafood meal in Guatemala.
Cross Catholic Outreach ministry partner Las Mercedes Nutrition Center strives to increase the quality of nutrition in young children.

Fight the Hunger Crisis With Catholics Worldwide

Malnutrition can produce lasting and sometimes irreversible damage in children. Boys and girls who do not receive proper nutrition suffer arrested cognitive, physical and social development, and after the age of 5, the effects of chronic malnutrition cannot be reversed. Adults suffer as well (particularly the elderly and pregnant or nursing mothers) and many struggling people around the world are too hungry and too sick to work a steady job or otherwise improve their situations. Without enough to eat, families’ lives are at risk, and their chances of ever escaping the cycle of poverty are meager at best.

Thankfully, there is a light in the darkness: the global Catholic Church! Last year, the support of our compassionate donors helped ship almost 24.2 million Vitafood meals to feed the hungry through Catholic ministries around the world — and today, there are plenty more opportunities to make an impact.

By donating Vitafood to ministries such as Friends for Health and Life in Guatemala, Amigos for Christ and Rainbow Network in Nicaragua, or various partners throughout Haiti, you can meet some of the most urgent hunger needs facing the communities we serve. You can also respond to those affected by the COVID-19 hunger crisis, answering their prayers for food by providing nutritious servings of Vitafood. Every dollar donated can provide 18 meals!

Working together as the body of Christ, we can fight hunger and restore hope through devoted Catholic missions in developing nations. Give now to partner with us as we follow the Corporal Works of Mercy — putting our faith into action, serving the less fortunate and feeding those in desperate need of nutrition.

Donations from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2024, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.