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Our Friends Feeding Families Campaign, now in its third year, had its official kick-off in late October as we welcomed friends to an open house at our offices at 51 Sleeper Street. As you likely know, the campaign challenges individuals and businesses in our communities to do what they can to help us meet the needs of the 360,000 people who are hungry in Massachusetts. The Brown Bag is our call to action. It encourages our supporters -old and new- to be brown bag sponsors, host brown bag parties, buy grocery gift cards, fill bags with groceries, or make cash gifts in support of our efforts.
Our campaign goals are twofold; to increase awareness of the Catholic Charities Basic Needs Emergency Services program and to raise the financial support necessary to meet the requests received by our Basic Needs programs which provide food, fuel and rental assistance to individuals and families in need.
Last year thanks to the generosity of so many, our Friends Feeding Families Campaign enabled Catholic Charities to provide food assistance to some 107,117 of our neighbors in need across Eastern Massachusetts. Our goal this is year is to raise the same amount and hopefully more, as the weakened economy continues to have a serious impact not only on low income households in eastern Massachusetts, but now working and middle income families as well.
Perhaps a quick snapshot of a typical family newly seeking our help might illustrate the need. "Barbara" is a single mother of three school aged children. She was a full time working mom, providing a basic but comfortable life for her family. Barbara was reliably paying all of her bills including the mortgage on her modest home. Then she lost her job, laid-off from her position working in a local public school system. Despite cutting expenses everywhere she could, Barbara began to fall behind, and though embarrassed at finding herself in a position she never imagined she'd ever be in, came to Catholic Charities for food assistance. Not only were we able to meet the need for food she had come to us for help with, we were able to provide guidance around other services she was eligible for as well. Grateful for the assistance Catholic Charities was able to provide, Barbara began to volunteer in our food pantry as her way to "pay it forward." This, as I say, is a typical story recounted hundreds of times a week in our many Catholic Charities locations.
Sadly, our food pantries have seen a 30 percent increase in demand this year. At just one of our food pantries alone, we have moved from distributing 3,000 pounds of food a month to 12,000 pounds of food a week! And that's not all. We continue to provide rental assistance to more families who cannot afford the increased rents here in eastern Massachusetts. Catholic Charities' Basic Needs staff move into high gear after Labor Day and must keep up this pace until Christmas. All fall they are working overtime to ensure that families who are struggling to pay their bills can also feed their families. As Thanksgiving nears, the Basic Needs team, joined by many community volunteers, began the work of providing turkeys and the "fixings" for Thanksgiving dinner. This year we will serve 5,000 families across Eastern Massachusetts.
All across the archdiocese we are providing services to more people than ever before. The need has never been greater and the effort never more important. Our Friends Feeding Families Campaign allows Catholic Charities to honor our commitment to serve those who come seeking our help. We have to be there for them.
Debbie Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.