Hunger knows no season

The stillness and quiet contemplation that we are called to during the Advent season is always a startling contrast to the hectic pace we seem to so often find ourselves in as we prepare for Christmas. We here at Catholic Charities are busily working to ensure that those in our communities who can least afford gifts this Christmas have something to share with their loved ones.

For those who have come to rely upon Catholic Charities for support, the economy has not improved. Recent data suggests that, for those households earning less than $29,000 annually, the average unemployment rate is almost 20 percent, rather than 9.8 percent general unemployment rate reported for Massachusetts in November. We know that families in our communities struggle day in and day out to put food on the table and to pay their rent, mortgage, heat or electric bills.

We also know that at this time of year many families have to choose among paying the rent and heat or buying food, and on top of that, find money to pay for a minimal Christmas for themselves and their children.

While this is not a new phenomenon here at Catholic Charities, what is new is the increasing number of families that are seeking assistance this holiday season. Also striking are the requests from parents, not for expensive toys, but for the basics: food and clothing. Warm winter boots and coats, gloves and sweaters, hats and scarves are high on the wish lists of most of the families we serve.

I was recently asked if the requests for help at this time of year might be lost in all the hustle and bustle of the season, suggesting that it might be better to be asking for help at some other time of the year. My response was that hunger and poverty know no season; they are with us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and at Catholic Charities we stand ready to help during every season.

And yet our Christmas Giving Program provides much needed support to families. Our efforts to meet holiday needs could never be successful without the generous support of individuals, businesses and especially parishes throughout the diocese. This year, more than 40 parishes have offered their assistance. Folks coordinate giving trees, arrange for food donations and volunteer in our pantries and shelters, all in an effort to make the Christmas season more special for families and children.

I would like to share just a few examples of the generosity we experience:

In keeping with Catholic Charities' commitment to supporting children and their families year-round, five South Shore parishes provide gifts for the more than 300 children who attended Sunset Point Camp last summer.

And as we work to help homeless families find permanent homes, parishioners from more than a dozen parishes also donated toiletries and the small household goods and linens we all need to transform a house into a home.

Led by Bishop Dooher's example, five parishes in the South region are reaching out to those most in need, and are committed to providing toys and food to be distributed by the Basic Needs Programs of Catholic Charities South.

This year we are also partnering with the City of Brockton and Mayor Linda Balzotti as well as the Shaws Supermarket chain in providing toys for hundreds of Brockton families.

The number of ways in which folks are helping us help others could go on and on. They are heartwarming examples of the ways in which you respond to the call to care for our neighbors. At this very special time of year, I want to thank you for all the assistance and support you give us here at Catholic Charities, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. Without you, the work we do to help those most in need would never be possible.

On behalf of everyone at Catholic Charities, I wish you a blessed Christmas and a healthy, happy New Year!

Debbie Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.