When Nativity Parish of Burke, Va., presented its Operation Starfish® donation to Food For The Poor last month, the check included a $155 gift from a homeless man celebrating eight and a half months of sobriety.

“Part of my recovery is giving back, and I know what your parish does,” he said, as he handed over an envelope containing his cash donation. “I know what it’s like to be without a home.”

Former Food For The Poor staff member and Nativity parishioner Jim McDaniel told the story as an example of the transformative power of the church’s program that was started in 1998 by Fr. Richard Martin, who died in May of 2014. The parish will build its eleventh village in Haiti with its latest campaign, including the sacrificial gift of the homeless man who wanted to help the poor.


“The Operation Starfish® story is a story that illustrates it has never been about money, it’s always been about hearts,” said McDaniel. “It’s a healing process for people to give to help others.”

In traveling to Florida to hand-deliver the check, Fr. Bob Cilinski fulfilled a longstanding and beautiful tradition of traveling to Food For The Poor to present the gift and address the staff of the charity.

“There is so much to do, and we must do it together,” said Fr. Cilinski, who has been shepherding Nativity for three years now. “My message today is celebrating you. You are living stones, you are chosen. The Lord calls us to be cornerstones and uses us as building blocks.”

In celebrating the man who had the vision to begin Operation Starfish®, Fr. Cilinski said, “Fr. Martin is doing his greatest work from heaven.”

Lesly Clervil, a Food For The Poor Haiti Country Manager, has traveled with the group to Haiti, and to Nativity parish, most recently to speak at seven masses in May. He told parishioners about the legacy of their work, and how many thousands of lives that have been transformed.

The new village in Despuzeau, Haiti, will help 80 families. Located 25 miles east of Port-au-Prince, this dry and barren community was chosen by the church’s college and young adult ministry during their mission trip to the country with Fr. Cilinski last July.

During the past 19 years, Nativity’s parish has partnered with Food For The Poor to build more than 1,400 homes in 10 Nativity Villages. They have established life-changing co-ops, such as sewing and fishing villages, in addition to aquaculture, agriculture and animal husbandry projects. The church also helped to support Food For The Poor beneficiaries with relief during times of natural disasters.

“Faithfulness is the word I always think of when I think of Nativity,” Clervil said. “You can count on them, they always come through.”

The faithful parish now has a new supporter in the form of a homeless man from Reston, Va.

“This week he gave me another envelope with $65 in it and he told me, ‘I’m tithing to Operation Starfish®’,” McDaniel said.

By Kathy Skipper, Director of Public Relations, Food For The Poor