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Helping those affected by the federal shutdown

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One thing we know for certain is that unpaid federal employees, as well as those who rely on federally funded housing and nutrition programs, are growing increasingly anxious about their ability to pay their rent and feed their families.

Debbie
Rambo

Every Christmas season is a time of giving for us at Catholic Charities. We expend all of our available resources to make sure that children and struggling families in our community are able to have a merry Christmas. Now that the Yuletide season has come and gone, we are faced with our biggest challenge of the New Year -- restocking our shelves.

In the wake of what is now the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, even more people are struggling mightily to make ends meet. Government workers around the country and here in the Greater Boston area are going without pay. Federal agencies, such as the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation, and Treasury, have all been affected. While all of these agencies are impacted, whether a specific program is shut down or its funding has been delayed varies greatly. The situation continues to change, as other agencies begin to run out of their existing funds. Currently, SNAP, WIC and other child nutrition programs are at risk of losing their funding, too.

One thing we know for certain is that unpaid federal employees, as well as those who rely on federally funded housing and nutrition programs, are growing increasingly anxious about their ability to pay their rent and feed their families.

Catholic Charities aims to provide the necessary support to help each of our clients achieve stability and to empower them to reach self-sustainability. A major hurdle for struggling families, especially ones with young children, is achieving food security. To have food security is to have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets a person's dietary needs at all times.

It is in times like these, when even more people than usual are in need of the helping hand, that we at Catholic Charities are able to provide through the support of people like you. Through your donations and volunteer efforts, we are able to help the neediest people in our community make it through difficult stretches, and get back on their feet.

Each year, we provide over 100,000 people with food from our six food pantries in Eastern Massachusetts, more than 50 percent of those served are children. In this month, the first month of 2019, all six locations are reporting post-holiday spikes in demand. In just one day this week, 200 clients came into our Dorchester community service center to pick up food for their families.

Another part of the agency's effort to help clients attain food security is our Food Security Rewards Program. The program is one month of intense nutrition courses in collaboration with Umass Amherst nutritionists, followed by case management and resource assistance from our Basic Needs staff for an additional three to six months. These clients receive nutrition education, help researching for all available food resources in their areas, grocery shopping saving education, SNAP application assistance, and food security evaluations.

The Food Security Rewards Program helps us to educate our clients, and in return, it is an avenue for us to better understand the needs of those we serve. People like Alexa C, a single mother of two who told us: "I'm now saving $25 a week and a total of $100 dollars savings a month on groceries. The education program helped me learn simple ways to make healthier food choices for my family." Adding, "The biggest thing I took away was how to save money using unit pricing, using the store plan meals, and buy things on sale. Staying under budget or seeing how I could stretch my pennies makes me feel good."

Success stories like Alexa's have lasting positive effects on the lives of parents and their children. So, too, will a helping hand during a federal shutdown that limits your paycheck or access to services.

To get involved in our mission, and learn more about our programs, go to ccab.org.

Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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