Neighbors helping neighbors

It was a beautiful October day, the sun was shining brightly, and the temperatures were unseasonably warm. Our food pantry was having another of its busy days -- a constant stream of folks from the surrounding neighborhood lining up for their once-monthly opportunity to receive groceries enough to feed their families over a few days' time. For many, this is just enough food to help them make ends meet.

That day, more than 200 families had come to the pantry. Volunteers had just distributed the last available bag of groceries at mid-day, when a young mother, two pre-schoolers in tow, appeared needing food. When told by our receptionist that the pantry was closed for the day, tears began streaming down this young mother's face, the despair and worry about not having enough to feed her family clearly apparent.

In an uncommon act of kindness, the young man who had just received the last groceries of the day offered the distraught mother his food. When she resisted, he said simply "I can see that you need this more than I do today."

It is in this spirit of kindness that this fall we kick-off our sixth annual Friends Feeding Families Brown Bag Campaign. The campaign had its beginnings during the worst of the Great Recession, and has two primary goals: to increase awareness of the Catholic Charities Basic Needs Emergency Services program and to raise the financial support necessary to meet the requests received by our Basic Needs programs which provide food, fuel and rental assistance to individuals and families in need.

The Brown Bag is our call to action. It encourages our supporters -- old and new -- to be brown bag sponsors, host brown bag parties, buy grocery gift cards, fill bags with groceries, or make cash gifts in support of our efforts.

To understand why more families are visiting our food pantries today than ever before, one really just has to look at the ever increasing cost of living across our region. The Boston Foundation released its Greater Boston Housing Report Card earlier this month and the report card points to a number of sobering statistics. In Massachusetts, the percentage of renter households who currently pay 50 percent or more of their gross income on rent now surpasses a quarter of all renter households, more than 30 percent higher than in 2000. Homeowners have been hurt as well. The percentage paying 30 percent or more of their gross income to cover housing costs has increased from 26.7 percent in 2000 to 40.4 percent in 2011.

The report card also noted that real incomes were less than 1 percent higher in 2011 than they were in 1990. The report card confirmed what we see each and every day in the communities where we serve. Across the region, many are struggling: the middle class is shrinking, the number of people living in poverty is growing, all while the wealthy are growing wealthier.

At Catholic Charities, we work to help families develop financial literacy skills. We encourage families to develop reasonable budgets and reduce their spending as much as possible. But even the most frugal and sensible budgets cannot compete with stagnant earnings and skyrocketing costs. And so we work to make food available to our families and neighbors as a way to help make ends meet.

It is at times like these that neighbors need to help neighbors. A small act of kindness, a simple brown bag of food, will make a difference in the life of one family. And at Catholic Charities, we try our best to keep helping, one family at a time.

To learn more about our Friends Feeding Families campaign go to

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