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Lent, food banks, and a Corporal Work of Mercy

Escalating prices and the well-being of the vulnerable—especially the elderly—in our midst should give us the resolve to help in any way that we can.

(Image: Stella de Smit/

As Lent begins this week, we too begin—to reflect, to abstain, and to act in the person of Christ, all in preparation for waking up on that glorious Sunday morning when we can exclaim, “He has risen!” So there’s no better time to start the practice of performing one of the Corporal Works of Mercy than right now, especially in light of current events.

Inflation has negatively impacted us all, but a recent article about the elderly being specifically impacted broke my heart. The article features an interview with Chef Robert Irvine, founder of the Robert Irvine Foundation, “which helps give back to military and first responder families.” In the article, Irvine discusses the fact that many senior citizens cannot afford meat and dairy and that many of them are now relying on food banks.

The article quotes a senior citizen from the Boston area who said, “I just officially gave up eggs,” as eggs in her area have escalated to more than $5 a dozen, and she simply cannot afford them.

This tragic reality hits home for anyone with aging parents, grandparents, or elderly friends on a fixed income. The rising cost of food, gas, and more has many dipping into savings and worrying about how to put food on the table.

The problem is all too real. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics,

The food at home index rose 11.3 percent over the last 12 months. The index for cereals and bakery products rose 15.6 percent over the 12 months ending in January. The remaining major grocery store food groups posted increases ranging from 7.2 percent (fruits and vegetables) to 14.0 percent (dairy and related products).

These escalating prices and the well-being of the vulnerable—especially the elderly—in our midst should give us the resolve to help in any way that we can.

Feeding the hungry is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy. And, in the Gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus tell others that when they feed the hungry they are doing it for Him too. Indeed, what we do for others is what we do for Christ.

I am constantly reminded of this when I see ads for FISH pantries in Knoxville, Tennessee—a nondenominational, nonprofit food bank that calls itself a “hospitality pantry” because of the way it treats its patrons.

FISH pantries was founded over 30 years ago when a man named Jim Wright, who volunteered at other food banks, became disturbed by the fact that some families were “blacklisted” because they asked for help “too often.” When he looked into the lives of these families, what he found was a desperate need. These people were not taking advantage of the services; they truly needed food. So he vowed to make a change. He opened his own food pantry, and in the process he has made a tremendous difference in the lives of thousands of Knoxville residents.

Today, anyone for any reason can go to FISH pantries and choose the food that they want. There are no restrictions, no income verification, and no limits on how many times people can visit each month. The organization welcomes all who need food. In fact, the need is so great that FISH now has hospitality pantries in four locations and serves over 21,000 people a month.

The FISH website goes on to say,

Sharing food is an opportunity to create true community—where all are welcome, everyone is treated with respect, and the voices of the marginalized are amplified, recognized, and valued. To achieve this goal, FISH provides food to people in a way that respects their human dignity. No one has to register or prove financial need. Instead, guests simply show up at one of our four Knoxville neighborhood FISH pantries and select the items they’d like to take home.

It is truly a gift for thousands of needy and hungry families to not only be nourished but to be treated with dignity and respect as they shop for the groceries they need.

What a beautiful way to live one of the Corporal Works of Mercy!

As we begin Lent, let us promise our Lord who gave us His everything that we will give to others and uphold their dignity as we do so. Let us not simply give up something that we like for Lent. Let us look outside of our lives and into the lives of the suffering around us.

Whether we donate money or items to food pantries or volunteer our time, one of the greatest things we can do this Lent—and throughout the year—is to feed the hungry.

Times are incredibly difficult, and while no one relishes asking for help, we can thank God that there are places like the FISH pantries that lovingly help people in their times of need while also respecting their dignity as human beings. Let us be inspired by their example and join in helping the needy and the elderly. Let us serve others by giving them tangible help and by shining the light of Christ as we do so. After all, we are our brothers’ keepers.

(If you are facing food insecurity, the US government website has a page with detailed information for how you can find services in your area. You can also find local food banks at the Feeding America site.)

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About Susan Ciancio 18 Articles
Susan Ciancio is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and has worked as a writer and editor for nearly 19 years; 13 of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently, she is the editor of American Life League’s Celebrate Life Magazine—the nation’s premier Catholic pro-life magazine. She is also the executive editor of ALL’s Culture of Life Studies Program—a pre-K-12 Catholic pro-life education organization.


  1. This is a great reminder to take care of other people. This Lent, mabye we should all promise God to help one or two other people.

  2. They need to bring home ec back to the schools so people know how to cook from scratch.

    Bags of potatoes and flour (vs purchasing processed/box mixes etc..) can go a long way and help stretch out expensive meat supplies.

    The food wasted in this country is a disgrace and efforts are underway to curb that. Part of this issue is “good untils” etc… which usually are misleading and are carry overs from the days of food overproduction.

    • Right, but that doesn’t help the elderly, who are a long way from school and who know how to cook already. and who likely had home ec. Flour and potatoes do not have hte protein the elderly need. there’s nothing good in those items. they may sustain, but they don’t nourish. potatoes are ok but full of starch and has nothing good for elderly bones.

      • A great reply – and my comments were meant to be general in nature and not at all judgmental or critical (I buy prepared food myself). Tough times call for redirection. Kids can be taught at a younger age to help with the meal preparation as well, to some extent. Put down the phones and roll the dough! ha ha

        My parents grew up in large families during the depression, and potatoes and applesauce (and popcorn) were liberally used along with farm meat to feed and fill the masses, esp during the winter months when the fresh garden wasn’t available, or the canned goods were being rationed. Yes, Ma was trying to get out of her chair about 4 in the afternoon, right up until her last weeks, to “put potatoes on to boil.” During her long domestic heyday, those leftover potatoes went into quick au gratins with ham, hash browns fried in bacon grease or just sliced and brown fried at another meal etc…. fresh mashed potatoes were her specialty and I believe a spoonful once ended up on Dad’s face during a disagreement at the dinner table – to which he replied “next time include a little gravy, please.”

        If you’ve ever seen restaurant impossible Robert? stresses it’s much cheaper to make your own french fries etc.. instead of buying them frozen. I remember when hamburger helper came out for a cheap and quick meat makeover.

        One of the gals taking care of my elderly mother was somewhat surprised we didn’t buy a chili seasoning “packet” – she’d been raised on buying it instead of coming up with the cheaper versions on her own, but quickly warmed up to the delicious (and cheaper)results.

        Your point is well taken and I think neighbors/relatives/parishioners living near each other could share some of the cooking, with special consideration of the elderly. Meals on wheels can only spin the food cycle so far, with their limited resources and large territories. As the article explained, the food banks are being reinvented in very effective ways, and no one in need should be shy about using them for the protein and other food that you mention. (Redarding elderly bones, my mother claimed they weren’t always the golden years they were more frequently the brittle years!)

        Hope you’re able to make a couple fish fries this Lenten season!

  3. It is never ceases to amaze, disappoint and frustrate me (a Catholic by God’s grace and my choice) that Catholics must be reminded, prodded, cajoled and perhaps coerced (under penalty of loss of Heaven) to do this.

    But they do.

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