Newman Center in Macomb serves 1,200 free meals during exams

MACOMB — It didn’t take long for the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Newman Center to embrace the Holy Year of Mercy. During the jubilee year’s first days, the center and volunteers from area parishes fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty on a grand scale to meet a little known or understood need.

The Newman Center offered free food to Western Illinois University students during their final exam week, Dec. 14-17.

“There is a high percentage of food insecurity on college campuses throughout the country,” said Jonathan Day, director of the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Newman Center. “The crisis is most severe during exam week, when many of the students run out of food money and have to resort to borrowing from friends or eating the cheapest food they can find at stores.”

Exam stress compounds the problem “because it’s the most critical time for students to have good food to eat,” said Day.

So through email and social media invitations, the Newman Center invited students to stop by that Monday through Thursday for free food — breakfast, lunch, dinner or just a snack.

The response? More than 1,200 meals were served.

In addition to Newman Center staff and volunteers, workers and donors came from St. Paul Parish in Macomb, St. Bernard in Bushnell, Immaculate Conception in Monmouth, Sacred Heart in Dallas City and St. Patrick in Raritan to help manage the overwhelming response.

“Students were amazed that churches from around the area came together to support this effort,” said Day. Many signed thank-you cards for the workers and donors. Others gave testimonies about how, without the Newman Center’s help, they wouldn’t have been able to eat that week because of time or budget constraints.

“One said it was the best thing they ever saw a church do,” said Day, who credited Sharon Bray from Raritan for serving as project leader.

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