THE ADVOCATE ASKS: Saugus Catholics Youth Minister talks about how young people can learn about hunger at the upcoming FoodFast
Editor’s Note: For this week, we sat down with Scott N. Morin, Youth Minister for the Saugus Catholics, to talk about the 2018 FoodFast event that is scheduled for Good Friday, March 30 at Blessed Sacrament Parish (14 Summer St. in Saugus). The event is open to all Saugus youths in grades 7 through 12. Morin has spent the past two and a half years coordinating youth ministry programs at Saugus’s Blessed Sacrament Parish and Saint Margaret Parish. Since 1992, he has worked at several parishes for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Previously, he worked nearly 14 years at Immaculate Conception Parish in Malden as coordinator of youth ministry. Morin, 50, is a Danvers native and 1985 graduate of Danvers High School. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in business/corporate communications from Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y. in 1989. He initially got involved in his hometown as a volunteer in youth ministry before making it his career. His wife, Margo Morin, is a pastoral associate at Mary Queen of the Apostles Parish in Salem, Mass. They met in youth ministry and have been married since 2001. Morin sees his current role in Saugus as working with 50 adult volunteer leaders who in turn administer to some 400 students who are registered Catholic parishioners in Saugus. Some highlights of the interview follow.
Q: Scott, please tell me a little bit about the FoodFast; how long you have been doing it and what are the plans for this year?
A: I’ve been doing FoodFast in some form or another since my volunteer days in 1989 in Danvers. Every parish that I’ve worked for, we’ve incorporated an opportunity for young people to experience hunger, to learn about social justice and to be in solidarity with those who go hungry. We’ve always had a component where young people in the Catholic Church can learn about these things and feel it – feel the hunger by not eating for so many hours. In the beginning, we used to do 30 hours. At this point, we’re down to 20 hours, due to scheduling with students because schools are in session now on Good Friday, when in the past they weren’t.
Q: So this would involve all denominations? Not just youth of Catholic faith.
A: The idea is something that is for all denominations. Our group – the Catholic Church is hosting it – but we welcome all young people of any denomination joining us. Yes. We feel that every person can relate to, unfortunately, the suffering in the world. And every person can relate to wanting to make a change.
Q: How many people did you have last year?
A: I believe we had about 50 to 60 young people and adults participating in the FoodFast last year. And we raised about $1,500, which provides food for children throughout the world – not just in the poorest of countries, but even here in the United States. We provide donations for Catholic Relief Services, based out of Baltimore, Maryland. It’s the social justice arm of the Catholic Church … Catholic Relief.
Q: What are your expectations for this year as far as participation in this?
A: I’d like to increase the amount of young people participating, at least by 20 percent, so we can go up to maybe 70 people. We’ve had in the past at different parishes over 100 people participating. And the more people who participate, the more the word gets out – the more that people begin to hear about children who are starving throughout the world and dying every day. And we raise more money to save kids’ lives. The statistic varies. It can go from 13,000 to 14,000 children possibly could be dying every day, due to malnutrition and the side effects of malnutrition. Every dollar we raise, can feed a child for a day with a special meal that’s fortified and sent to countries that need it – also for programs and education for people who need it for farming and different things like that.
Q: If somebody wants to participate in this, how do you start off?
A: Basically, you would start off by – now that you are reading about this, you can go to our website and download a packet – a FoodFast packet, which includes everything that you need to prepare yourself to participate in the FoodFast, which happens on Good Friday here at Saugus Catholic Collaborative on March 30. So, the Food Fast packet includes a letter to the parents explaining what a FoodFast is, the safety concerns, why we are fasting, where the money is going, who benefits, how young people’s role is important in this and raising money; so that’s the information the packet covers. There’s a permission form, of course, which parents must sign to give you people permission to participate in this event. So, for Middle Schoolers, they fast for 10 hours, 7th and 8th graders.
Q: What time?
A: 1 p.m. on Good Friday till 11 p.m. The High School students begin at 1 p.m. Good Friday and go into the next day, until 9 a.m., so they are doing a 20-hour fast. And they will try to find people to make donations to them, somewhat like people make donations for the Walk for Hunger, which is one of the largest single-day fundraisers in the country, or at least in Massachusetts. You make a donation – you could do it for hour or you just make a donation of $20. Any amount of money is accepted, of course, and there is a form for that as well in the packet – kind of a fundraising form that allows young people to keep track of who made the donation and then how much money they are collecting. And they bring that with them on Good Friday to the event.
Q: Based on your previous two events, who were the most active? The Middle School students or the High School students?
A: Here in Saugus, it’s been equally active. The young people in both Middle School and High School both seem to love being a part of something that’s bigger than themselves, where they know they can make a difference. We are very clear to share with them that every dollar they raise actually can feed a child for a day. It may not seem like a lot in our society. But in countries where food is scarce, there are special programs where special nutritional meals can be put together for a dollar, and it does save children’s lives, so every dollar they raise saves a kid’s life. And it’s inspirational for young people to come together and be a part of that.
Q: And you have all denominations, not just the Catholic faith?
A: Right. Most of the kids who will come will be from the Saugus Catholic Collaborative. But like every event we have, friends are welcome, regardless of what faith they are or if they don’t believe at all. We welcome all young people to participate, and again, it’s great – not only because we are building community – but we’re making a difference in the world. The theme this year is “Be the change.” And that comes from [Mahatma] Gandhi’s statement of “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And young people have that opportunity. We’re seeing it more and more in the news – that young people are stepping up to make a difference – and this is one way young people can change the world for the better. And they have been doing it for decades, through programs such as FoodFast.
Q: What’s the biggest thing that a kid individually can derive from this experience?
A: I think young people get a personal satisfaction from knowing that by giving up something for an amount of time – such as food – that, yes, it’s a challenge, but in the end they know they are going to get their food back. And what’s powerful is they see images and hear stories of young people who don’t have that luxury of opening a refrigerator or cabinet and having food after they have been hungry. So, they see the hungry faces and they hear the stories of hungry people and hungry children … and it’s emotional, and, it has an impact on them, and they know that by going without food for a short while, they’re “tasting hunger.” They’re going hungry to feed children.
Q: And this is an overnight thing?
A: So, for the high schoolers, it is an overnight thing, which is a draw, because it allows young people to build community. We have our hall with a very large screen and we watch movies overnight. And we separate the hall: One part of the hall is just boys and another part of the hall is just girls; and we have an area in the center where no people are allowed, to keep them separated. And we have adults who stay up all night to monitor the situation, and we’ve never had any issues on FoodFast. I think every young person comes with a desire to make a difference. And they understand that’s their goal.
Q: And last year, you raised …
A: About $1,500.
Q: And what’s the goal for this year?
A: I’d like to get it up to $1,700 or maybe $2,000. We ask the High School students to set as a goal $150 and the Middle School students, $75. Some young people go way over that. Some young people raise $200 or $300 themselves, and they get a lot of help from their parents at work. In the neighborhood, people they’re able to ask. In the parish, sometimes, people just make checks out and leave them here at the office because they know what’s going on. Now that this is in the paper, we accept donations from any person in the community who would like to make a donation, writing a check out to the Saugus Catholics Youth. And then we send the check to Catholic Relief Services.
Q: Has anybody registered for this yet?
A: We just started the registration and don’t have anybody registered yet.
Q: So this week, it starts.
A: Yes. This Sunday is when we’re sending it out to our 10th graders. We’re going to be meeting with them this Sunday, and that’s when we’ll be rolling it out.
Q: And then for the High School …
A: The 10th graders, specifically, will get this this weekend. We will email it to everyone’s home in 7th through 10th grade that we have registered this coming Friday. They’ll get an email on this, and then we will actually start speaking to the students about it this coming Sunday.
Q: You can actually get juniors and seniors to participate in this event?
A: Yes, because we have juniors and seniors who after they are confirmed continued to be involved in the parish and the activities that we provide. And that we – they still feel like a community – like they’re important to the community, and they do like being a part of programing.
Q: So this is the third year coming up, so what is the most interesting thing from the previous two that you have been involved with? Either a reaction from a kid …
A: Some young people have loved a sense of accomplishment – that their life matters and that they can make a difference, so there’s a lot of joy, even at the end of 20 hours of not eating. Young people – almost every one of them – said, “I forgot that I haven’t been eating for 20 hours. It went by so fast, I wasn’t even hungry.” And they are so surprised that they can go without while raising money and awareness for world hunger.
Q: Now while they are fasting, you said there are movies going on at night?
A: Yes. The older kids stay over – the High School kids – so there are movies for the overnight. And we have a guest speaker that comes; his name is Tony Bellizzi, and he comes from Queens, N.Y. He’s a national speaker, and he comes in. He has a foundation called Hope for the Children Foundation. And we will make a donation to him as well, to support his ministry or working with inner city young people and also children around the world – Columbia, where he works training young people to be jugglers and street performers so that they can make money to have chickens and goats and raise money for their families. These are teenagers around the world who are trained to be entertainers, and we help him with this ministry.
Q: Now, is there a target country this year for your fundraising efforts?
A: No, there’s no target country. The money will go mostly to Catholic Relief Services, and they will provide the need wherever the need is. They know where the money needs to go.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share about this program or your experiences with the past FoodFasts?
A: For some young people, they walk in and they think, “This is just going to be something I’m giving up. … I’m giving up food and it’s going to be dreadful. What are you getting me into here?” Their friend drives them along. And by the end of the event, they are surprised – like I said earlier – that they weren’t hungry. They didn’t understand the statistics that 13,000 to 14,000 children die every day from hunger and hunger-related issues and that they can help reduce that number. That number, though, fluctuates. It’s hard to pinpoint, but it’s a horrible number. And young people come away with a real joy and sense of accomplishment. They realize that not only were they fasting, but they were experiencing a prayer that they never knew that they could do. They were experiencing a service project that they didn’t know was possible. They really enjoy being a part of something bigger than themselves and being challenged. It’s a real challenge – the nice thing – it’s a serious challenge.
Q: During the FoodFast, the only thing they are allowed is water?
A: Water and juice. We call them juice breaks, and we will provide juice breaks for young people, and there are young people who, if needed, can have a modified fast, for diet or health reasons. Of course, there’s plenty of information on fasting at Catholic Relief Services’ website of FoodFast.org. But we will never put anyone in jeopardy. We put safety first. There are plenty of adult volunteers, and there’s a program throughout the entire process that we follow. So, not only are we doing serious activities, but we’re doing fun activities. We’re doing creative activities and we’re doing activities that are more thoughtful.
Q: Now, are there other members of the Saugus Faith Community who are working with you on this event?
A: Other parishes are doing their own thing. I think St. John’s is doing a similar event. If a young person has a friend who wants to join us from another faith community, they would be welcomed in, but we’re not doing this as a unified event. This would be just Saugus Catholics Collaborative that we’re hosting. But all young people in High School are welcome.
Q: So is there a fee for participation?
A: There is a cost for the event: $40 to register. But scholarship is always available in case a young person can’t come up with that. We have supplies and gifts that we like to give kids. We offer a group t-shirt with the theme of the event on it: “Be The Change.” And any money that we don’t use in the $40 for the things we need to run the event, we put that into the donations, so any extra money goes toward donations.
Q: And I guess there are some goals for the fundraising.
A: Yes, it’s nice to have goals: $75 for the Middle School kids and $150 for a High School kid to raise. If they can reach that, we’ll make a lot of money for young people around the world. And it’s really about saving young children’s lives. And I’m really happy that we can share this event with the town of Saugus. The people of this town have been so generous over the years.
Q: Anything else that you would like to say to the Saugus community at-large about this upcoming event?
A: With a focus on global poverty and justice, FoodFast provides an experience of faith that celebrates Catholic traditions and inspires us to a life of faith and service; an experience of solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world who are living in hunger and poverty; and an experience of community, working together to create lasting change in the world.
We will go without food for up to 20 hours so that we can have a real taste of what hunger is like. During this time we’ll engage in many different activities, from community service projects and volunteer work to praying, having fun and making new friends. The money raised is sent to Catholic Relief Services and Help for the Children Foundation, where it is put to work in areas like Haiti, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Philippines and in the U.S.