April 8, 2016

‘Food Fast’ brings Clarksville youths ‘in tune with others’ suffering’

Members of the youth group at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Clarksville pose by the cans they collected by going door to door in a neighborhood—one of many service projects during Food Fast, their annual 24-hour fasting and service event, on Feb. 20. (Submitted photo by Stacy Gillenwater)

Members of the youth group at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Clarksville pose by the cans they collected by going door to door in a neighborhood—one of many service projects during Food Fast, their annual 24-hour fasting and service event, on Feb. 20. (Submitted photo by Stacy Gillenwater)

By Natalie Hoefer

After the teens of the youth group at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Clarksville spent several hours stocking shelves at Bonnie’s Food Pantry, the charity’s director offered the hungry teenagers ice cream.

Their answer was simple—difficult, but simple: “No thank you. We’re fasting.”

The 19 youths were holding true to the experience they had embarked upon the night before—the high school-aged group’s sixth annual Food Fast. The experience consists of 24 hours of fasting and service. It is designed to help “our youth to gain a deeper understanding of the Catholic traditions of fasting” and service, said Stacy Gillenwater, the parish’s youth ministry coordinator.

“They also walk away from the experience with a better appreciation for the many meals they routinely receive in their lives,” she added.

The experience started on Feb. 19 with evening Mass, followed by a candlelight service in the gym at St. Anthony of Padua School.

“The format is the same every year, but the content varies,” Gillenwater explained. “This year, our focus was on mercy. [After the candlelight service], we talked about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.”

Gillenwater led the high school youths in games to help them identify and discuss different works of mercy.

“We talked about statistics, like one in every five kids go without enough food [in America]. Some of the kids built a shanty town out of cardboard and slept in that” to empathize with the homeless, she said.

Before the youths slept, they watched and discussed the movie God is Not Dead.

Eighteen-year-old Abbi Hamm, a senior at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville who helped plan the event, said some good discussion followed the showing of the film.

“There are two preachers in the movie,” she said. “One comes from Africa and the other one works in the [American] town where the film takes place. The town pastor says [to the African one] something like, ‘You’re in the trenches for God every day.’ And the African preacher says, ‘God has you right where he wants you.’

“We reflected that we don’t have to go on a mission trip—we can do stuff here in our parish and town that is winning hearts for God. It might not seem like we converted someone today by cleaning out a van or stocking a shelf, but that’s God’s work, too. It’s where he wants us here and now.

“That set the tone for the next day when we did work in the community,” Abbi noted.

The next morning, Gillenwater started the day with group prayer—but of course, no breakfast.

“I like food a lot,” admitted 14-year-old Alex Cox, a freshman at Trinity High School in Louisville, Ky. “So that was really hard. You wake up and realize you’re not having breakfast, and you know you’re not having lunch. But there are so many people who go through that on a daily basis. It was really neat to experience that, to be in tune with others’ suffering.”

The first stop for the service portion of the experience was Bonnie’s Food Pantry in Jeffersonville.

Fifteen-year-old Katie Baker, a sophomore at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School, was impressed with the woman who operated the food pantry.

“Her personality and the way she was, you could tell she had her heart and soul in it,” said Katie. “You could tell she loved what she did. That left a big impact on me. I hope to be as giving and loving as she is.”

After more than two hours of reorganizing and stocking shelves, the group headed to a neighborhood, going door to door asking for canned goods. They collected more than 200 cans, and delivered them to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry at their parish.

The beautiful weather on Feb. 20 made the next act of service more pleasant as the youths cleaned the grounds of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany.

Helping around the charity’s grounds was the service highlight for Alex.

“It was a really special way to give back to the community,” he said. “We helped at a food pantry, and that’s good. But [food pantries] get a lot of attention. St. Elizabeth doesn’t get the same focus, but they need just as much help.”

For the last act of service for the day, the youths returned to the parish to put together toiletry kits to be distributed to the homeless by “Jesus Cares at Exit 0” ministry.

After journaling about their experience, the youths met for 5 p.m. Mass to break their fast.

“I love ending our fast with what fills us the most—Jesus,” said Abbi. “I love that we don’t go out to dinner.

“I reflected this year that there are people that don’t have food—their whole life is a fast. What fills us is Christ, and that’s what we’re trying to gain from the Food Fast.” †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!