Feed the Hungry: Michael Merrell’s Corporal Work of Mercy
The Catholic convert runs the food bank at St. John the Baptist parish in Longmont, Colorado
A Minnesota native and now a resident of Longmont, Colorado, Michael Merrell is a recent convert to Catholicism. And at his parish, St. John the Baptist, he has found a satisfying niche in his life by running the parish’s food bank. “By taking over the food bank,” he said, “I feel that God made my situation work, and put me where I could do some good for others.”
For Merrell, as it turns out, he has walked along a zigzag path to his faith. “It has been a long trek in my faith journey,” he noted. “Seven years ago, I went through a rough patch and had serious life changes. I did some soul searching and decided I wanted a connection to the church, and to feel part of them. I went to RCIA classes, and I was still sure I was not able to commit. The director said that is okay; there was never any pressure. I had a great group who lived their faith in different ways. That was helpful and resonated with me at the time to make a commitment.”
Helpful, too, admits Merrell, is that his wife is Catholic and has always stood by him, supportive particularly as he went through RCIA classes. “My wife is always with me,” he said. “She was never pushing me to convert. But she loved that I went through RCIA. I would tell her about some facts I had learned about the faith, and she would admit she was learning things alongside me.”
But he eventually realized that Christ has always been with him. When he understood that powerful reality, he cried that night, and knew that he had turned a corner.
He described how his food bank works, using client applications so that he and his staff can know the size of that household and whether any food allergies exist. “We provide a food box once a week,” he said. “The contents may vary from week to week, depending on our contributions.”
Basics usually include canned soups, chilis, beans, fresh produce, peanut butter, cereals, milk, meat, canned tuna, rice and bread. The produce donations vary from week to week, and sometimes they receive less, sometimes more. Occasionally, local stores may donate snacks or side dishes, even vitamins and pancake mixes.
“We have a core set in each box,” he said. “We offer walk-in service as well as delivery for clients who are homebound. We also have about 30 volunteer drivers who will deliver two to five boxes. We do three days a week: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”
Due to the pandemic Merrell said that the food bank has seen an increase in clients, and they often must make many more deliveries even in the colder weather. On the other hand, he said, they have also seen an increase in donations to the food bank because people wanted to do something. “This has been a real way for our parish to help out those who are struggling with money and food,” he said. “We were never worried we couldn’t meet the demand. Now we even do curbside donations.”
How has managing the food bank changed his life? “It has made me more aware of how fortunate I am in my life,” he said. “The clients that I meet all have a story, whether it’s the pandemic, escaping domestic abuse, losing jobs, divorce, or a recurring illness with extreme medical costs. … There for the grace of God would be me. … Now I know that everyone has a story. They are each a child of God, and just as important as I am.”