CACFP Forum Spotlight on Robert Jones, Director of Government Programs, Archdiocese of Philadelphia
There are few things that panic me more than a personal bio request. It is easy to do a professional one, which I will share in a moment. Personal, however, leads me down the path of self-examination and the inevitable conclusion that I am an incredibly boring person. Then there is the picture request…could I get away with photo-shopping my head on someone else’s body or perhaps a different head on my body…or just go in with a completely different person and hope that no one looks too closely? This time around is especially difficult since I am next in line after Greg Scott, former NFL star. My closest brush with the big leagues was third grade flag football and, even then, they stuck me on the girls’ team…two games into the season, I was so roughed up that I was forced into early retirement.
Best to go with my professional role. I serve as the Director of Government Programs for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Our CACFP sponsorship includes child care centers, afterschool programs and emergency shelters across Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware and Chester counties in Pennsylvania. All approximately 300 sites that we partner with are unaffiliated. This “unaffiliated” aspect of our sponsorship, though challenging, is particularly fulfilling. We are blessed to collaborate with a broad range of providers and agencies—every denominational stripe, community organizations, for-profit entities, etc.
Besides the administrative and financial support that we provide, our office also supplies meals to all the child care centers and afterschool programs that we sponsor. We currently serve nearly 3 million meals annually. I also have oversight responsibility for the Residential Child Care Institution component of the National School Lunch program. I have been privileged to be involved in this work for slightly more than 20 years and have just past 55 million meals during my tenure with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. As I believe is true for each of this in this field, I still approach each day excited to work and committed to improving our sponsorship.
What I would most like to share is how I see the work that I do as an extension of my faith. Each child has been created in the image of God, and I believe that God’s heart brims with hopes and dreams for all. Sadly, there are many obstacles that can readily interrupt a child’s potential development, not the least of which is economic hardship and the nutritional challenges that often accompany it.
How do we respond? We find an instructive answer in the Gospel of Matthew with the story of the feeding of the five thousand. The disciples approached Jesus concerned that the people gathered were hungry and needed to eat. They requested Jesus to “send the crowds away, so they can go the villages” for food. Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” Jesus said. You know the rest of this powerful story. We receive a clear insight into God’s expectation that we bring our resources and efforts to this work. He will bless and multiply our impact, but we bear responsibility to reach out to meet the needs of those around us.
Hence, the spiritual amplifies the physical, but does it also work the other way? Of course, and we have another wonderful Gospel story to reference, this time from Luke. Following His resurrection, Jesus “came up and walked along with” two of His followers as they were on the road to Emmaus, but they did not recognize Him. After their journey, the followers invited Jesus to stay with them for the evening. “When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” In the sharing of food, God came alive to them. I believe that it is the same with our work. My prayer is that as we invest our resources into bringing meals to children in need, that the organizations, communities and families that we partner with will see the heart of God in us and be drawn to accept and respond to His love.
We recognize the God-given value and potential of each of the little ones that we serve. We bring our limited capabilities into action, God responds and creates outcomes that, again drawing from the Bible, are “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” And, as we provide this needed food, God comes alive to those who witness His presence in our lives.
As we consider this meshing of our efforts with God’s, it is very hard not to be excited about this work that we are privileged to do!
Mr. Robert S. Jones is currently a member of the National CACFP Forum Board.