Members of the Order of Malta, Los Angeles, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens of Catholic high school students Oct. 30 to launch Operation Beat Hunger, a new initiative that expands the order’s vigorous efforts to help the city’s food-insecure.
Gathering early in the morning at St. Peter’s Italian Church near downtown, approximately 100 volunteers assembled and packed 10,000 shelf-stable meals to be distributed by the Order of Malta Mobile Ministry to partnering food pantries in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. The protein-rich meals will augment the 50,000 pounds of fresh produce the order currently delivers each month to local food pantries.
“We know the need is great. We see the long lines at food pantries throughout the city,” said Michael Psomas, Order of Malta Hospillater, Western Region. “That inspires us to do more, to give more, and to serve more.”
“We decided to model that service for young people, facilitating an opportunity for them to see the face of Christ in the poor and the sick, which is a central part of our charism,” he added. Order members reached out to six local Catholic high schools, and the response from students was tremendous.
The partnering high schools were Cathedral, St. Francis, Verbum Dei, Mayfield Senior, Notre Dame, and Bishop Alemeny.
“It feels good to do something for a cause that’s bigger than yourself, and to think about who the food is going to help,” said Domenick Lewis, a senior at Bishop Alemany. “It feels good to help others, even people who don’t know me — just a random act of helpfulness for my community.”
Victoria Valdez, a sophomore at Notre Dame, said she is saddened by the growing homelessness crisis in her community. “But I also see the community coming together to help, like today. It feels really rewarding to come out and volunteer.”
Meals from Operation Beat Hunger will be delivered to the St. Francis Center in Los Angeles, St. Robert’s Center in Venice, Juan Diego House in El Monte, Proyecto Pastoral in Boyle Heights, St. Peter’s Church, and St. Norbert Church in Orange.
Members of the Order of Malta help to stock and operate the twice-monthly food outreach program at St. Peter’s, helping hundreds of recipients. Pastor Father Fernando Cuevas Preciado hopes Operation Beat Hunger will become another regular outreach there.
“Today is a day to teach young people that sharing is the way to help, to apply the gospel of the Lord in a very touchable way,” he said. “I’m very impressed with the high schoolers who came. They are a blessing, and we are grateful.”
The Order of Malta plans to expand Operation Beat Hunger to other locations throughout the Western United States. It is one of many service initiatives funded and operated by the order. In addition to their food pantry ministries, the Los Angeles “Knights” and “Dames” prepare and distribute hygiene and self-care provisions to the homeless, conduct free flu vaccine clinics, and provide warm jackets and backpacks to those in need. They also prepare and serve hot meals for the hungry at the St. Francis Center, Good Shepherd Church, and St. Robert’s Center.
The Order of Malta is a 900-year-old, lay religious order of the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to serving the sick and poor through humanitarian, medical, and social projects in 120 countries. The Los Angeles location is one of the largest in the world, with 205 Knights and Dames committed to communal prayer, hands-on service, and the financial support of dozens of outreach programs and nonprofits throughout the community.