Making the summer months brighter for families in need

As the warm weather returns to the Commonwealth, and schools across the state let out for the summer; new challenges arise for Massachusetts families living on the margins. Parents in low-income families must now find ways to not only keep their children active, and out of trouble, but also keep their children well fed, and well nourished. When the academic year ends, nearly 300,000 children from low-income families lose access to the school breakfasts and lunches they rely on during the school year in Massachusetts alone.

Quick with a hand-up and not a handout, Catholic Charities helps these parents meet the needs of their children with a wide variety of programs across the state. Our Food Pantries -- located in Dorchester, Boston's South End, Brockton, Lowell and Somerville -- are open year round and serve over 110,000 people each year; over 50 percent of whom are under the age of 18. Requests for food assistance increase over the summer months, spiking in August as families struggle to make ends meet.

Another such program is our Sunset Point Camp, where nearly 450 low-income, at-risk boys and girls aged 6-13 from the Greater Boston area travel to Hull each summer for a one- or two-week overnight camp experience. These children -- chosen without regard to their race, nationality, or religious affiliation -- get to enjoy the fresh air, learn new talents, receive summer academic support, and simply have fun together.

Sunset Point campers are supervised and coached by camp and program directors, kitchen staff, lifeguards, and nurses as they enjoy swimming, kayaking, paddle boats, arts and crafts, drama and other recreational activities. Nutritional meals and snacks are prepared on site. In addition, they are involved in a variety of programs designed around life-building skills promoting teamwork, sportsmanship, and good health, while cultivating a sense of leadership, self-discipline and self-esteem.

One client of ours who has benefited from both programs is a tall, brown-haired, brown-eyed mother of four who works full time as a teacher in a local child care center, we'll call her Anna. A victim of domestic violence, Anna made the decision to flee her abuser four years ago. She first escaped to a domestic violence shelter, where she was able to gain the support she needed to put her life back together, and most importantly create a better, safer life for her children. One important lesson Anna learned from her trying experience, which she continues to put to good use, is how to ask for help -- which is how we at Catholic Charities have come to know her.

Anna came to our food pantry because her income is simply not enough to make ends meet, especially as the monthly child support she is entitled to frequently goes unpaid. At our food pantry, Anna knows that she can find healthy food -- the fruits and vegetables, meats and other staples necessary to feed her growing sons and twin daughters. Anna has shared that the help she receives from the food pantry during school vacation weeks and during the summer months are life-savers.

This summer, all four of Anna's kids are going to Sunset Point. Anna initially planned to send two of her children at a time to camp because she didn't have enough suitcases for each of her four children to bring clothes with them. Upon hearing of this conundrum, we were able to provide Anna with additional luggage so that the siblings could enjoy their summer together.

With your support, we hope to provide nutritious food and enriching experiences to the underprivileged children of the Commonwealth, in the summer months and year round.

For more information about the work we do here at Catholic Charities, visit our website

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