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Making Christmas merrier for homeless families

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Blessed by so much generosity, we are able to help make Christmas merrier for the many families we have come to know that are living on the edge of financial stability.

Debbie
Rambo

As the holidays approach, the needs of so many in our community come into heightened focus. Now more than any other time of year, we are called to embrace the spirit of giving. While many of us are able to exchange gifts and spend cherished time with our loved ones, the less fortunate among us struggle mightily to make ends meet. As the cold bite of winter's chill creeps in, many families in our community must scramble to keep warm. Those living on the margins need our support to make the holiday season merry.

Today, according to the Mass Law Reform Institute, the number of homeless families in the state is at an all-time high with over 4,000 families -- including approximately 8,000 children -- currently living in shelter. More children are becoming homeless every day. On average, approximately 240 homeless families with children apply for emergency shelter each week.

St. Ambrose, one of our four family shelters, was opened in 1989 in a former convent to meet the needs of the growing number of homeless families in our community. The program now provides temporary shelter for up to 19 families, each meeting the state's definition of homelessness. Families stay in residence for an average of nine months while they work to get back on their feet and secure long-term housing. Parents work or attend training programs to be sure that they can become financially self-sufficient. Each of the families housed at St. Ambrose receives case management, supportive counseling, financial management support and education, and parenting support. Our goal is to ensure that the families who find themselves at St. Ambrose are given the tools needed to break the cycle of homelessness once they leave our program.

When her marriage dissolved, Monica found herself unable to pay all of her bills. It did not take long for her savings to dissolve before she and her then 5-year-old daughter became homeless. They came to St. Ambrose, unhappy and struggling, but Monica had a job and was determined to make her stay with us as short as possible. She worked hard, making sure that she participated in all of the services we had to offer. Eventually, Monica was able to secure housing that she could afford, and she and her daughter moved to their own apartment.

Thanks to the generosity of our many supporters, Monica received help furnishing her apartment with essentials, and stays connected with our supportive staff. She has furthered her education, secured a better paying job and her daughter is thriving. She is grateful to St. Ambrose for the help she received and gives back by providing financial literacy seminars for mothers who are newly homeless and just beginning their journey back to financial independence.

Our family shelters like the one at St. Ambrose run year round thanks to the support we receive from all areas of our community. Individual and group donors assist us greatly in making this work possible, as do our corporate donors, churches of all faiths, as well as local (and not so local) middle and senior high schools, among others.

Throughout the holiday season the staff at St. Ambrose expects to distribute well over 1,000 Christmas gifts -- including not only toys and books, but also warm winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves to children in need. In addition to food for the holidays, household items for families setting up their new homes are among the many gifts we will distribute.

We do not merely assist the current residents at St. Ambrose Family Shelter, but we also reach out to the hundreds of former residents like Monica and her daughter whom we have aided in regaining control of their lives.

The work done at St. Ambrose is just one of many examples of the work we do here at Catholic Charities. Blessed by so much generosity, we are able to help make Christmas merrier for the many families we have come to know that are living on the edge of financial stability. The work that we do could never be done alone. We partner with so many in our efforts to assist children and families. We hope that during the holiday season, many of you will join us in our journey to live out the gospel's message. We look forward to welcoming you as a volunteer, as a donor or as an ambassador for our work, and thank you for your invaluable contribution.

On behalf of all of us at Catholic Charities, wishing you and your families a blessed Christmas.

To learn more about our work, go to www.ccab.org.

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

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