Feed the Hungry: Carolee O’Meara finds joy in volunteering at Paz de Cristo

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Carolee O’Meara has been volunteering weekly at Paz de Cristo in Mesa for the last 26 years and said God’s mercy has given her peace in her life and a desire to help others. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Carolee O’Meara has been volunteering weekly at Paz de Cristo in Mesa for the last 26 years and said God’s mercy has given her peace in her life and a desire to help others. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)

missionary-of-mercy_300x300In recognition of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, every month The Catholic Sun will feature a “Missionary of Mercy” who ­exemplifies one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy.

Practical ways to Feed the Hungry
  • See to the proper nutrition of your loved ones
  • Support and volunteer for food pantries, soup kitchens, and agencies that feed the hungry
  • Make a few sandwiches to hand out as you walk through areas where you might encounter people in need
  • Educate yourself about world hunger
  • Avoid wasting food
  • Share your meals with others

Source: “Practical ­suggestions for practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy” by Joe Paprocki, Loyola Press

Carolee O’Meara knows what it’s like to be poor. She also knows how it feels to receive mercy.

“I’ve always had a heart for the poor,” O’Meara said as she deftly stashed cans of vegetables in food boxes at Paz de Cristo in Mesa. “Being raised in a home where there was poverty and where God was just there all the time leading me, even without the parental guidance, God was just always merciful to keep me close to Him.”

Every Tuesday since 1989, O’Meara attends morning Mass and then heads over to Paz de Cristo, a soup kitchen and resource center for the homeless and poor. The center gives out some 1,300 food boxes monthly and serves a hot meal seven nights a week. Once O’Meara arrives, she and other volunteers load up cardboard boxes to be given to the poor each week. The boxes include cans of beans and fruits and other staples like rice, meat and bread.

“When I was young the welfare lady would come and bring us food,” O’Meara said recalling her childhood. “We were on that type of welfare to the point where one year when I was probably in fifth or sixth grade, the only thing we got for Christmas was a box of food from my uncle.”

Later on, O’Meara married and had children. When her husband left her, she again faced poverty.

“I had four kids at home and I had to apply for food stamps, so I had to humble myself,” O’Meara said. “So I understand how some people might feel a little intimidated. It’s a situation where you have to humble yourself or totally go without.”

It was in the depths of that difficulty that O’Meara experienced mercy and longed to share it with others.

“When I was left alone … you feel like a failure, and you think, ‘I wish I would have done something different so I wouldn’t be in this situation,’ and yet it was at that time that God’s mercy poured out on me and gave me such a peace,” O’Meara said. “One time when my ex-husband came to see the kids he looked at me and shook his head and said, ‘I don’t understand how you can be so peaceful.’ And it was just because of God’s mercy. He flooded me with a holy peace and the reassurance that He’d take care of me. And He did.”

Years later, as her ex-husband lay dying, he asked her forgiveness. That act, she said, was a gift of God’s mercy too.

“God’s mercy helped him to not only ask for my forgiveness, but I was able to ask for his at the very last moment. I just knew that was the Lord clearing the path for him and for me.”

On the fourth Saturday of the month, O’Meara helps distribute the food boxes to the hundreds of poor families, senior citizens and local homeless who file into Paz de Cristo. Packing and distributing the food is physically demanding and she’s on her feet constantly. So where does she find the energy to return again and again over the last 26 years?

“I don’t get discouraged,” O’Meara said. “It’s just such a joy to come here and it’s the joy that keeps me going. Years ago the Lord gave me a Scripture verse, ‘I have the strength for all things.’ And I stand on that always. He’s my strength.”

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