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Elena (not her real name) was desperate when she came to our offices asking for help; she had no food to feed her family. A single mother of a 2 year old daughter and 4 year old son, Elena has been struggling to make ends meet since the economic downturn. An 11 year employee of a local bus company, she was laid off two years ago as her company adjusted to decreased consumer spending. Unable to find new employment, she trusts that once the economy improves, and people begin to travel again, she will have her job back. In meeting with Elena, our staff learned she was also behind in her rent, and at risk of being evicted from her apartment. Reliant on her unemployment checks, Elena explained that there was just not enough money to pay all the bills.
We are working with Elena to be sure her family has food for today and support through the holidays, while also working to connect both she and her children to other resources that will help them through this difficult time.
Amazingly, despite the challenges she faces, Elena describes herself as blessed and grateful for the assistance she received from Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities' staff meet many "Elenas" in our service centers. Not surprising given the results of a recent Gallup poll conducted across the United States, which asked the question: "Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?" Sadly, one in five Massachusetts households with children said "Yes" in response. Recent census data tells us that 46 million Americans are living in poverty today -- more than ever before -- confirming our everyday experience as we work together with families who are struggling to make ends meet.
The prolonged economic downtown we are experiencing has impacted both poor and middle class families and resulted in a staggering demand for food at our pantries. For example, our food pantry in Dorchester is now open four evenings a week to be accessible to families with working parents. This summer, in a single month, requests for food assistance increased more than 50 percent over the previous year. Research tells us that in the United States, low-income parents work more hours than those in many other developed countries, but a parent working full time (40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year) earning $10 an hour would bring home only $20,000 annually. This is less than the official federal poverty level for a family of four and not nearly enough to pay for decent housing, food, child care, transportation and health care.
To help us respond to this growing demand, Catholic Charities recently launched its fourth annual Friends Feeding Families Brown Bag Campaign. The campaign is designed to raise awareness and support within local communities around the challenges that people have feeding their families as the holidays and cold weather approach. The goal of the campaign, which runs through Dec. 31, is to raise $700,000 in donations and collect 5,000 bags of non-perishable food to stock Catholic Charities food pantries.
Our hope is that "Hunger Knows No Face" -- the theme of this year's Friends Feeding Families Campaign -- will inspire people to make a real difference in the lives of their neighbors by not only donating food, but also spreading the world about the very real challenges that people are struggling with on a daily basis.
We cannot do this work alone: every bit of support we can gather allows Catholic Charities to honor our commitment to meet the needs of those seeking our help. To learn more about our Friends Feeding Family Campaign, please go to www.ccab.org.
Debbie Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.