Many young professionals want to help address the D.C. area’s complex social issues, but they often don’t know where to start or whether they even can afford to make a difference at this point in their lives. So, it is hugely impactful when they hear that, for just $83.33 a month, they can provide one meal a day for someone in need through the Cup of Joe program.
Making such a difference, along with family-friendly volunteer opportunities, were what drew Lisa Manfreda and her husband, Brendan, to the 83.33 Society.
The 83.33 Society is a giving circle in which participants make a difference through a collaboration of volunteerism, mentorship, education and philanthropy in the form of a monthly $83.33 donation — the cost of feeding a person experiencing homelessness breakfast each day.
Since joining the 83.33 Society, Lisa Manfreda has shared her involvement with several friends who were eager to join themselves.
“My husband, Brendan, and I loved the idea of being part of the next generation of Catholic Charities donors and volunteers,” Manfreda says. “All four of our children are in Catholic school, and we are always looking for opportunities to carry that Catholic teaching out of the classroom and into the community.”
One recent opportunity aligned with Catholic Schools Week, when a friend and neighbor of Manfreda held a Cup of Joe packing activity at their home. “The children were encouraged to ask friends and relatives to ‘sponsor’ a certain number of bags for Cup of Joe and the children —with quite a bit of parent assistance — then all got together to prepare as many bags as they were able to get sponsors for.”
The result, she says, “was such a great lesson for them and provided an opportunity for us as parents to really talk about the importance of giving back and helping those in need.”
Manfreda first got involved with Catholic Charities in 2014, when she was asked to give a family law seminar for clients and staff attorneys. “It was such a great experience,” she says, “both in terms of working with the staff attorneys and meeting and working with some of the clients whom Catholic Charities serves that I wanted to increase my involvement.”
For the last five years, she has been a volunteer with the Legal Network, working directly with clients and providing family law mentorship to staff attorneys and Legal Network volunteer attorneys as they navigate family law cases on behalf of clients.
“Being an attorney in a small law firm doesn’t always provide many pro bono opportunities, and my work with the Legal Network has allowed me to give back in an important way,” she says. “The opportunity to help someone navigate one of the most challenging times of their life is what led me to practice family law and being able to do that for someone who could not otherwise afford an attorney is extremely rewarding.”
There was one particular experience that sums up why she believes it’s important to be part of the Catholic Charities community. After she helped a client navigate a difficult custody case, the client broke down in tears. “She told me through her interpreter that her ex-husband had threatened her that the legal system wouldn’t help her and wouldn’t take her seriously because she didn’t speak English and couldn’t afford an attorney.”
Then, the impact became so clear to Manfreda. “She thanked me for advocating for her and her children, and it really hit me that, through Catholic Charities, we have the ability to have a real and lasting impact on someone’s life,” she says.
Manfreda has been involved with other organizations, including C.A.S.A. (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Montgomery County, and she is currently president of Holy Redeemer’s Home and School Association.
But Catholic Charities is different from the other organizations in that it is rooted in the faith-based call to service. “One of my favorite Father John quotes that I always like to share with people is, ‘We don’t help people because they’re Catholic. We help them because we are.’ It has really stuck with me.
“Serving the community through my involvement with Catholic Charities is the best way that I can think of to live my faith, which is important to me, especially as my husband and I raise four children in the Catholic faith,” she adds. “It is important to us to not just talk about being Catholic but to show our kids what it means to be Catholic and working with Catholic Charities has given me the opportunity to set that example.”
The 83.33 Society was formed just before the pandemic hit, she notes. The fact that the society exceeded its goal of reaching 100 members “is a testament both to the commitment of the original members and to the desire of many young professionals to get involved in community service and philanthropy.
“I hope and expect that the 83.33 Society will continue to grow exponentially, and that the families and individuals who become associated with Catholic Charities through their involvement with the 83.33 Society will continue to support Catholic Charities as volunteers and donors throughout their lifetimes.”