About 100 Catholic young adults, including, including from left, Ann Noonan, Sung Haihan and Mary-Pat Collins, put together bag meals for the homeless served by Catholic Charities during the DCCatholic Day of Service.
About 100 Catholic young adults, including, including from left, Ann Noonan, Sung Haihan and Mary-Pat Collins, put together bag meals for the homeless served by Catholic Charities during the DCCatholic Day of Service.
The weather finally warmed up and the sun shone brightly in a blue sky one recent Saturday morning. Yet 100 Catholic young adults spent a couple hours inside a low ceilinged, bare-walled men's shelter in Southeast, putting together 1,728 bagged breakfasts for the hundreds of men who stay at the shelter each night.

"It's a great day to give back," said Elliot Sedegah, 33, a parishioner from St. Augustine in Northwest who lives in Alexandria and works in marketing.  "It's what our faith is all about. It's love and helping out your brothers and sisters."

Jonathan Lewis, the Archdiocese of Washington's coordinator of evangelization and young adult initiatives, organized the first city-wide DCCatholic Day of Service on Feb. 1, aimed at connecting young adults in the D.C. area through service.

The 250 young adult Catholics served at 12 sites across the city, doing things like folding donated baby clothes, playing with at-risk kids, handing out food to the homeless and even building a house.

At the men's shelter, which is run by Catholic Charities, the sound of paper bags being opened and stuffed filled the room, as the volunteers placed juice boxes, apple sauce, multigrain bars, peanut butter crackers, and instant coffee in the bags. About 25 young people went to another room to help young at-risk men, ages 18-24 with job interviewing skills as part of a youth transitional program also run by Catholic Charities.

"It's important because the Lord tells us to love others," said Ann Noonan, 27, from Clarksville, a school nurse who was volunteering with her sister, Mary Noonan, a cardiac nurse. "I think one of the best ways to love is to be there in person...so they can then see the love of Christ in the person," Ann Noonan said.

Deacon Jim Nalls, parish and school program manager in the outreach division of Catholic Charities, spoke to the group before they moved the long tables to start bagging. He called the day a "toe in the water," saying he hoped that it would inspire everyone to commit to more volunteering hours. "I am inviting you to take a deeper dive," he said.

Darryl Colbert, who was homeless decades ago until he decided to pledge his life to God and helping others, also spoke to the volunteers. "This is not just an activity," said Colbert, who works in substance abuse education and services for Catholic Charities. "It very well may be a matter of life and death." Maybe the man who eats the simple meal will then be inspired to turn his life around, he said. "Don't look at it as a brown bag, but as (helping) another human being," he said.

For the young adult volunteers, their service that day provided a way for them to live out their faith. "I just love helping people. That's just something I do," said Angelica Alston, 25, a document specialist from St. Augustine who was there with her sister, Angelita Alston, 21 who is a student. "It's what God wants us to do," said Angelica Alston.

The bagged breakfasts at the shelter are a part of a year old program called Cup of Joe, named for local Catholic philanthropist Joseph Robert Jr., who died in 2011 of brain cancer. The program allows the men at the shelters to leave with brown bag breakfasts in the morning. Otherwise, they would have to seek food elsewhere.

With so many volunteers helping, the crowd finished the bags in less than two hours. Everyone cheered.  "Tomorrow, when you're eating breakfast, you can think of the people you served in need," Kevin O'Brien, who works for Catholic Charities, told the volunteers.