40 Cans For Lent
A Knights of Columbus charity program that connects traditional Lenten alms-giving with the nutritional needs of poor families in the greater San Antonio area has been a huge success for the men of Our Lady of Guadalupe Council 8306 this spring.
The spark plug behind “40 Cans for Lent” is the council’s Financial Secretary, Dennis Chaput. He says that the idea of a simple, straightforward one-can-per-day donation is inspired by Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the desert, and it came to him in the middle of the night last September.
By March, he had persuaded the council that it was a project that could really work, and on the first Saturday in Lent, they kicked off the project by inviting parishioners to bring their initial food donations to event that featured a band (which donated its performance), and produced donations that filled a 16-foot trailer.
On Palm Sunday alone, food donations filled 21 barrels, and the program concludes on Easter, when every parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Helotes, Texas is invited to bring one more can of food to Mass.
The food donations are divided among three area charities: Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and the San Antonio Food Bank. All of them say that the 40 Cans for Lent effort has made a huge difference for them.
“It has truly been a huge, huge blessing,” says Ester Geffre, Executive Director of the Guadalupe Community Center, which is operated by Catholic Charities. “It’s had a major positive impact on us, and it has made a major difference for our families.” And her advice to other councils that might be considering a similar project? “Just do it,” she says, with great enthusiasm.
“It has been amazing,” says James Hernandez, of Catholic Charities. “We have been able to double our output, from one eleven pound bag of food per family to two bags - 22 pounds. It lifts the spirit of the whole place, all of our volunteers and staff, because we can do so much more.
”Shanna Salizar is the Executive Director of St. Vincent de Paul of San Antonio, which has 75 local food pantries in the area. “Dennis called me one day and said that he had this vision, and he wanted to involve us,” she recalled. “He knew what we did there in Helotes at St. Vincent de Paul, and he knew we could benefit from the 40 Cans for Lent program.” They serve some 36,000 meals per month at their Haven for Hope facility, which aids the area homeless. “It’s not your typical soup kitchen,” she says proudly.
The 40 Cans for Lent idea has spread to other Texas councils, and even to a nearby Methodist Church, which like it so much that it encouraged competition among its bible study groups to see who could collect the most food. And the council where Dennis Chaput originally became a member, Cahokia Council 4596, in East St. Louis, Illinois, sponsored a similar project this spring.
Although Helotes, which is a northwestern suburb of San Antonio, is a small town only 8,000 residents, the membership of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is about 6,000 families. And Council 8306, with 250 members, hopes that projects like 40 Cans for Lent, will attract many more Knights, even as enriches the lives of donors and recipients alike.