Restocking the shelves

The groundhog did not see his shadow, the Red Sox equipment bus has arrived in Ft. Meyers, the jet stream is promising to shift just enough for our weather to be a bit warmer, and the glorious sun, when it appears, is higher in the sky, all signs that winter is approaching its inevitable end. I don't know about you, but I am winter weary and eagerly awaiting spring.

This winter's cold and record-breaking snowfall impacts us all, but for some in our communities, the impact can be devastating.

We know, for example, that every weather-related school closing day for a child living in poverty means that they are provided two fewer meals. Parents may also have to keep their homes a bit warmer if children are home from school, just as temperatures plummet and home heating costs are on the rise. The numbers of children impacted locally are staggering. The annual "Children of the States" report, released in January by the Children's Defense Fund, states that 185,613 or 13.1 percent of Massachusetts's children live in poverty, while 87,851 or 6.2 percent live in extreme poverty.

Sadly, for many parents, choices must be made between paying the rent, heating homes or providing food. Budgets are stretched too thinly to have all three. Folks often turn first to their families and friends for help. But when that option does not exist for them, they turn to Catholic Charities. In Boston alone, nearly 30 new families a week come to our Basic Needs programs seeking assistance.

Let me tell you about one such family. Maria is mother to three school-aged children who lost her job more than six months ago. Referred to Catholic Charities by a neighbor, she now relies on a small unemployment check, her food stamps and our food pantry to support her family. She stops in each week for the fresh produce we are able to make available as she stretches her resources to provide for her children. In addition, she does what she can to assist her grandmother, who lives close by but is in failing health.

Maria has enrolled in a Catholic Charities nursing assistant training program. Once she completes her classes and passes her licensing exam, Maria is hoping to become employed in the health care field. She has shared with us how blessed she feels to have made that first visit to our food pantry. She is grateful for the support she considers both sustaining and life changing.

It is at this time of the year we begin our effort to "Restock the Shelves." With the benefit of generous support from the community during the holiday season, we were able to keep pace with the demand at our pantries. We now find ourselves needing to resupply our pantries, trusting that the continued generosity of the larger community will allow us to keep up with the ever-growing demand.

On Feb. 9, in their statement "Standing in Solidarity with All" the Massachusetts bishops spoke of the impact this economy continues to have on families. The bishops called on elected officials to "not turn away from the growing social needs confronting our cities and towns" and work "to sustain the state's social safety net," so desperately needed during these difficult economic times. They also pledged that they "would do all that they can as bishops to enable our institutions- parishes, Catholic Charities, healthcare facilities and schools-to continue to do their best in extending help to our neighbors in need."

We at Catholic Charities are committed to doing our very best to meet the bishops' challenge to ensure that we provide essential services for those seeking our help. We are counting on your partnership and support in this effort.

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