Help families avoid making the choice 'to heat or eat'

This month, we at Catholic Charities are hard at work with our many partners to help our clients prepare for the impending chill of winter. Dropping temperatures create a whole host of new needs for our clients, we assist the people we serve at this time of year in part by stepping up our food distribution efforts. In addition to the work we do year round for our community at each of our six food pantries, we are holding our annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway and begin our Friends Feeding Families campaign.

Sadly, the number of people living below the poverty line in Massachusetts is staggering -- 686,597 people, according to new data published by the U.S. Census Bureau in September 2017. Too many of our friends and neighbors are faced with the agonizing choice of paying for groceries, or their rent, or electricity and heating bills.

This year, we again are partnering with the United Way to distribute more than 6,500 Thanksgiving meals to families in need throughout the Greater Boston and Merrimack Valley areas. Thanksgiving baskets, consisting of more than 150,000 total pounds of food, will help our neighbors across 13 Massachusetts communities have the holiday meal with their families that they couldn't afford otherwise.

Our Thanksgiving food distribution is a monumental task which requires elaborate preparation, much of which began this summer. With help from our partners at the Greater Boston Food Bank, companies and schools across the region, along with volunteers of all ages from parishes, we collect and prepare bags of food and turkeys for distribution.

However, once Thanksgiving has come and gone, the choice to heat or eat will still present itself for many in our community.

It is now that we launch our 10th annual Friends Feeding Families campaign that helps us ensure that our clients don't have to decide between paying their heat or utility bills and putting dinner on the table. 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 support necessary to meet the requests received daily form individuals and families for food, fuel and rental assistance.

In 2016, Catholic Charities of Boston served more than 3 million pounds of food to 110,000 of our neediest neighbors of all faiths at our food pantries. Throughout the Friends Feeding Families campaign we invite you to fill a bag with non-perishable foods for one of the pantries and we'll make sure it is given to a neighbor in need. You can also invite your friends or your coworkers to support our food pantries by bringing a bag of groceries or by purchasing gift cards. If you choose, we can provide you with fact sheets that highlight our most urgent food pantry needs.

We would not be able to close the basic needs gap without the generosity of so many in our community. It warms the heart to know that there are so many willing to lend a helping hand to those that need extra support during this season of gratitude. We are truly blessed.

To learn more about our work, go to

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