Working towards a Merry Christmas for all

Appropriate limit setting is one of those skill sets most parents strive to master: what is safe for kids to do, how best to help kids learn right from wrong, when and how to say yes and as importantly, when and how to say no. As the parent of two grown children, I've said my fair share of "no's," but never have I had to deliver the unimaginable "no" that so many parents today have to deliver: no, you can't eat, because we have no food.

Today's economy has created unrelenting struggles for many families in our communities. At Catholic Charities, we see the impact every day in our work.

Families that used to be able to stretch their financial resources through all but the last week of the month, are now seeking assistance from our Basic Needs programs nearer to mid-month as they struggle to make ends meet. Families that never struggled financially now are facing challenges affording the basics. Recent reports indicate that of the millions who lost jobs in the economic downturn, only 7 percent report having regained financial stability.

Children are among the hidden victims of this economic recession, and sadly, childhood hunger is on the rise. The Greater Boston Food Bank reports that the food insecurity rate for children living in Massachusetts is 18 percent, significantly higher than in the general population. The number of children facing hunger is as high as one in four in many of the communities we serve. We know that children enrolled in our early education and care programs, often are fed the only nutritious meals they will have that day while in our care.

And we know that the lack of food has a devastating impact on children, physically, emotionally and academically. Research tells us that children who struggle with hunger are sick more often, recover more slowly, and are more likely to be hospitalized. They are more likely to experience headaches, stomachaches, colds, ear infections and fatigue. The lifelong heath impacts of hunger are clear: children who face hunger are more susceptible to obesity and its harmful health consequences both as children and as adults.

In addition, children who regularly do not get enough nutritious food to eat have significantly higher levels of behavioral, emotional and academic problems and are more aggressive and anxious, while teens who regularly do not get enough to eat are found more likely to be suspended from school and generally have difficulty getting along with other kids.

Trying to balance children's needs for good nutrition along with the need to provide a happy Christmas creates even greater stress for already struggling parents. Families that struggle may never feel so alone as during this season of gifting.

Liz (not her real name) is one such mother. Just recently, Liz arrived, son and daughter in tow, ages 3 and 5, to our Catholic Charities Basic Needs program to register her children for our Christmas Giving program.

It was with great hesitance that Liz asked if we could also help with food for her young family. As she was talking, we realized that her children had scooted past and into the adjoining food pantry. There the children had found and opened a package of crackers that they were quickly eating, the three year old explaining, "I hungry."

Thankfully, we were able to help secure all that Liz will need to provide food for her young children as well a toy or two to make Christmas morning more special for her son and daughter.

We are blessed at Catholic Charities to have the generous support of individuals, businesses and especially parishes throughout the archdiocese, each helping us help families through our Christmas Giving program. Folks coordinate giving trees, arrange for food donations, volunteer in our pantries and shelters, all in an effort to make the Christmas season more special for families and children.

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, as we work to meet the basic needs of so many struggling families across the region.

Wishing you a blessed Christmas and a healthy, happy New Year!

Debbie Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston. To learn more about Catholic Charities' work, go to