It’s in the bag

Last year around this time, Catholic Charities took a gamble that paid off.

We got rid of a fundraising event.

We eliminated a cocktails-and-heavy-hors-d’ourves event geared toward raising money to feed families with a Friends Feeding Families Brown Bag Campaign. The campaign gave individuals and companies a chance to hold brown bag parties in their homes or places of business -- filling bags with food, grocery gift cards and contributions while enjoying a gathering. Corporations could put their logos on brown paper bags that listed all of our food pantry locations on the other side and that went out to thousands of our supporters.

It seemed like a risky thing at the time to give up a sure-fire fundraiser. But we wanted to do something that didn’t spend money on an event, and that better increased the sense of solidarity and connection between our supporters and the people we served. It was a tremendous success. We raised more money and sponsorships than the old way, filled the shelves of our food pantries, and attracted dozens of new friends to the work of Catholic Charities.

We have just launched the second year of the Friends Feeding Families Brown Bag Campaign, and already have more sponsorships than last year, and twice as many private house parties lined up than we had in a full three months last year. I am particularly happy to see so many businesses and nonprofits -- such as The Bostonian Group and Sacred Heart Academy -- having parties that involve employees, vendors, students and parents.

The question I ask myself, then, is “Why is this working so well?” The answer is solidarity -- the realization and celebration of our fundamental, God-given human connection to, and therefore responsibility to, one another. This past Saturday, more than 300 parishioners of this archdiocese came to a social justice convocation held at BC High. Three hundred-plus people, on a Saturday. They were there because they care about the Catholic Social vision, and they want to exercise not only their rights as members of the Catholic community, but also their obligations.

I believe people well beyond the Catholic sphere recognize that connection at a gut level. They also recognize how extreme the economy is for the vulnerable and marginalized, how much the slow recovery we have been hearing about has not reached the poor and will not any time soon, and how desperately they would want someone to feel a sense of connection to them if the tables were turned.

In September, we provided food to 200 more people than last year, and that is before our second largest food pantry reported its numbers. Utility requests are on track to last September, but gas is more than $1.00 per gallon cheaper. Mortgage and rent assistance requests are also tracking to last year, even though we are supposedly crawling out of the worst of the housing crisis. We have access to the specific numbers at Charities, but people already knew them instinctively. And they want to do something to help.

Our Brown Bag Campaign is a great way to help. I hope people and parishes all over the archdiocese take advantage of this great do-it-yourself model for expressing a commitment to justice and solidarity right here at home. I also hope, though, that people who can’t or don’t participate this year, for whatever reason, take hope from the fact that so many of their brothers and sisters are. I know I do.

Hope is never a gamble. We knew that when we rolled the dice last year, and we love our friends for proving it to be true again and again.

(To participate in the Friends Feeding Families Brown Bag Campaign, either go to, or call or email Kathrine Hastings at or 617.451.7952.)

Tiziana C. Dearing is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.