When the pandemic prevented parishioners from the Diocese of Pittsburgh from making their annual mission trip to Appalachia, they decided to help their cash-strapped parishes and needy families close to home.
A large group of teens and adults from the parish grouping that includes St. Gregory in Zelienople usually travels each June to Preston County, West Virginia, where one in five children live below the poverty line. Since the trip wasn’t possible this summer, they decided to take part in three local service projects.
Katie Maloney, 18, helped to pick and can vegetables grown at Hosanna Industries in Rochester, PA, doing her part to help feed the hungry.
“It wasn’t the same as our mission trip but it still felt good to help others,” she said. “I’ve been praying for the husband and wife we were with last summer in West Virginia.”
The couple, Max and Jennifer, needed more space in their trailer after adopting five young nieces and nephews. The mission team built a two-bedroom addition. The family is struggling right now, with Max out of work and the children at risk of falling behind in their schooling with no Internet connection at home.
Young adult leader Justin Meinert, 24, has volunteered with the mission team for the past decade, and finds himself constantly inspired by the people they serve.
“The poverty is eye-opening but they don’t let it break their spirit,” he said. “They’re extremely gracious and thankful for what we’re able to do for them. It’s made me more appreciative of what I have.”
This year, Meinert helped the team move some 60 tons of dirt to alleviate tripping hazards along sidewalks at St. Ferdinand Parish. Another group stained the gazebo at St. Gregory Parish and did landscaping, according to leader Mindy Pasquale.
“They missed working with the families they’ve gotten to know over the years,” she said. “They enjoy the faith, friendship and community.”
“I’m glad we still found a way to give back this summer and help the communities around us,” Meinert said.
Below: Katie Maloney of St. Gregory Parish (right) and Madi Yurich of St. Ferdinand pick beets, peppers and beans at Hosanna Industries.