Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

With their gifts of time, talent and money, parishioners of Holy Family, Virginia Beach, have been signs of hope to their community during COVID-19.

In April, an anonymous parishioner approached Father René R. Castillo, pastor of the parish, and said he would contribute $5,000 to Foodbank for Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, and that his company would do the same, if parishioners matched the $10,000 gift.

According to Holy Family social justice coordinator Brian Alexander, “People wanted to share some hope, and art helps us through these times.” (Photo provided)

With the support of the parish council and finance council, Father Castillo, pastor of the 1,400-household parish since last July, made the appeal at the end of his livestreamed Mass on Sunday, April 19. Under the heading of Faith + Food = Love, the parish posted the undertaking on Flocknotes.

“Within six hours we had raised $10,000,” said Brian Alexander, part-time social justice coordinator at the parish, noting that almost all of the 195 donations were made online. “People have become savvy and comfortable with online giving during this time (of COVID-19).”

In less than a week, parishioners had donated another $12,000 to the appeal.

Calling people’s desire to contribute “uplifting and amazing,” Alexander said, “They saw a need and answered a call to action.”

Father Castillo called Alexander, a retired earth sciences teacher hired by the parish in February, a “treasure” for his commitment to social justice concerns.

“He is very involved in our Haiti and prison ministries; he is easily immersed into social justice,” the priest said, noting that Alexander oversees 30 ministries.

On Friday, May 1 Alexander invited youth in the parish to create “signs of hope.” He cut sheets of plywood into 2×4’ sections and delivered those and cans of paint to 17 teens who made signs that are displayed along North Great Neck Road.

He said that besides offering encouragement to passers-by, the project “gives teens a voice.”

Alexander enlisted Roseann Boucher, a parishioner who helps with the LifeTeen program, to help recruit teens to paint the signs. Several of them, including her daughter, painted one of the signs — maintaining social distancing by taking turns — in the family’s garage.

“They were awesome; they really went to work,” Boucher said. 

While Alexander provided the sayings, the teens determined how they would be conveyed.

“They came out really well,” Boucher said, noting it took about two hours to complete one sign. 

Among the 17 messages were: “Superheroes wear masks”; “God is love”; “Be not afraid” and “Love heals.”

“People wanted to share some hope, and art helps us through these times,” said Alexander who, along with his son Nathan, a physical education teacher at Charlottesville High School, built the bases to which the signs were mounted.