A priest and five others stand at a table that has boxes of food ingredients.
Fr. John and the parishioners of American Martyrs are always filled with joy when they pack Vitafood meals.

A Parish Reaches a Historic Milestone in Caring for the Poor

Our hearts are bursting with gratitude for Father John Barry and the parishioners of American Martyrs Catholic Church as they prepare to reach an amazing milestone by packing their 1 millionth meal for hungry families and children in Guatemala.

These faithful servants of the Lord will cross that threshold when they gather Nov. 10-11 to pack yet another 200,000 nutrient-rich Vitafood meals. Fr. John — pastor of the parish in Manhattan Beach, California — reports that parishioners of all ages are brimming with excitement, and it isn’t just because this incredible number of meals will be reached. They’re joyful because the experience itself “packs their souls.” It’s a time filled with laughter, cooperation, kindness and inclusion.

“There is a sense that Jesus is at every table reminding us that souls mesh when we do good together,” Fr. John told us as we prepared for the upcoming event.

Just as Jesus will be present to these compassionate parishioners, his loving presence also will be felt by the hundreds of impoverished families who rely on this food! The nourishing meals being packed by American Martyrs and delivered by Catholic ministry teams will show those needy families their prayers have been heard and the Lord is by their side.

A woman in a hairnet smiles as a child pours food ingredients into a funnel.
Brandi Milloy, a parishioner and renowned Instagram celebrity, smiles broadly as she helps pack meals for the poor.
A young boy peels a sticker that will be placed on a bag of Vitafood.
People of all ages are needed for the many tasks during a food packing event.
A Catholic priest and others stand at a table scooping food ingredients as Vitafood meals are packaged.
Fr. John and parishioners carefully measure each Vitafood ingredient before packaging.

Another Heartwarming Chapter in an Unfolding Love Story

The deep connection that has been forged between the American Martyrs’ parishioners and the people of Guatemala has become a powerful and inspiring love story. With each new chapter, the bonds grow stronger. In addition to being blessed by the packing events, some of those who participate are also filled with awe when they travel to Guatemala to meet the hardworking, spiritually inspiring families who are receiving those meals.

The latest of these opportunities came last April when parishioners delivered some of the meals they had packed. Terri Brown, director of OCIA (Order of Christian Initiation of Adults) at the parish, said she was deeply moved when the families gave her a special gift she will never forget — abundant joy! “What an absolute blessing to see the joy on the faces of the families receiving their box of food! It is an incredible feeling knowing that we are able to help feed hungry families.”

The packing events, which the parish calls Meals for Many, have become much more than a service project for the parish. They create a fun place for individuals, families and guests to meet, bond and grow spiritually.

Dennis Labriola, a parishioner, said he planned to stop by to drop off a list of people who had signed up for the event, but everyone was so excited that he stayed all day. “It was a group with lots of camaraderie and energy, and the shift was over before I knew it.” Then he came back for the second day! “We often talk about the community of our parish. That community can be felt at our Sunday liturgies and events like Meals for Many where we work together for a good cause, like feeding people in Guatemala,” he said.

Nourishing meals are just the beginning of the parish’s commitment to impoverished families in Guatemala. On mission trips, they have worked alongside Catholic ministry teams to fund and construct village chapels, build sturdy homes for families living in makeshift shacks, provide support to families and ministry partners during the pandemic, sponsor projects in a home run by Catholic sisters that provides room, board and education to impoverished and vulnerable children, and help renovate ministry buildings in the communities. The parish has also provided gifts to children by participating in the Box of Joy® ministry. Most importantly, Fr. John’s joyous celebration of Mass throughout the villages is a blessing to the faithful families who cherish the sacraments! The spiritual gifts shared are abundant, and the fellowship is genuine and filled with Christlike love.

As each chapter of this love story unfolds, God pours out his blessings through Fr. John, the staff and parishioners!

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Five girls smile as they scoop ingredients from large boxes on a table.
It’s always fun to be with friends and serve the Lord!
People in hairnets carefully scoop ingredients from large boxes on a table.
Each Vitafood package contains the necessary ingredients for a nutritious meal.
Four people at a table make sure each bag of Vitafood is properly labeled.
Parishioners always take meticulous care to ensure each Vitafood meal is just right.

Responding to Childhood Hunger and Malnutrition

The Vitafood meals packed by American Martyrs parishioners are vitally important to the outreaches of our Catholic ministry partners who serve the poor. In Guatemala, the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima and the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu have compassionate ministry teams and distribution plans in place, but they could not secure such a large volume of food without the help of U.S. Catholics.

As these ministry teams know, hunger in the remote villages of Guatemala is often severe. Many families grow their own food on small plots of land, but they lack proper tools, much-needed fertilizers and adequate rain to reap sufficient harvests. Tragically, children become malnourished, even to the point of suffering long-term physical and mental harm. In Guatemala, 46% of children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition and stunted growth. (Source: World Food Programme)

Vitafood is a perfect response because of its nutritional value and versatility in creating meals with local ingredients. Vitafood contains a rice, potato or lentil base, a protein (usually soy or beans) and key vitamins to energize, strengthen and improve the health of malnourished children and families.

A large parish hall is filled with smiling people, some with their arms raised in celebration.
A large number of parishioners celebrate after packing meals for the poor. And this was only one shift of volunteers!

Meals for Many — Love for All

The fact that one parish has come together as the Body of Christ to pack 1 million meals in two years is both incredible and inspiring. It has been a huge blessing to two Catholic dioceses too. Both rely on the food in their outreaches to the poor and are deeply grateful for the help they are receiving.

With this gift of proper nutrition, the ministry teams can ensure impoverished parents and children are able to reach their God-given potential. The food being supplied also indirectly supports their other ministries — providing sturdy homes, education, agricultural aid, support for income generation, and spiritual nourishment. All of these blessings are a symbol of the unity of love and service that have made the Catholic Church such an important instrument of mercy in the world today.

We eagerly await the next chapter in the unfolding love story between the kindhearted people of American Martyrs and the families being blessed in Guatemala. Surely, the best is yet to come!

Join Us

To learn how you can support or host a food packing event, visit our Food Packing Events page.

Box of Joy is a registered trademark of Cross Catholic Outreach.

Proceeds 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.