Unfortunately, J's story is not unique, and we work with more and more folks that were gainfully employed for many years, sometimes decades, that have lost their jobs as a result of the economy and are living on the edge.
Recently released census data that shows that poverty in the United States has declined for the first time since 2007, down 1.2 percentage points in 2015 from 2014. The census data also notes that real median household income was 1.6 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession, and 2.4 percent lower than the median household income peak that occurred in 1999.
Sadly, the numbers of people still living in poverty are staggering -- 43.1 million people continue to live in poverty in this country,14 million of which are children.
Despite this reduction in poverty rate, food insecurity is on the rise -- in part due to a lack of affordable housing and good paying jobs for working families in eastern Massachusetts. As a result, one in ten families in eastern Massachusetts are forced to turn to their local food pantries for help to fill the gap.
Families like J's -- who worked for many years as a private school teacher. J retired from his full-time teaching job after being diagnosed with a progressive and degenerative illness. He found work as a part-time substitute teacher, hoping to make ends meet. Unfortunately the income from this part-time job is not quite enough to cover all of his family's expenses. J was unable to pay many of the family's regular bills, and when he found himself at risk of losing his family's home to foreclosure, J turned to Catholic Charities for assistance.
While we were not able to provide all of the financial support J needed, we were able to provide him with food assistance and help with some of his utility bills while also connecting J and his family to other services for assistance.
Unfortunately, J's story is not unique, and we work with more and more folks that were gainfully employed for many years, sometimes decades, that have lost their jobs as a result of the economy and are living on the edge. Many have spent all of their savings, retirement plans, are no longer eligible for unemployment and cannot find new, full-time employment.
With the unfortunate reality of food pantries being a relied upon source by so many, we're working hard to transform our food pantries into destinations for not only nutritious food, but also a place to find information about making healthy choices. All five of our food pantries continue to offer canned and dry goods. But the choices we feature have less sodium and more nutritious ingredients. We also provide those in need with meat and poultry, fresh produce, and other healthy foods.
We strive to transform poor eating habits with our healthy living brochures and nutrition tips. From time-to-time, nutritionists volunteer to conduct classes on such topic as making good food choices, healthy cooking, and smart grocery shopping.
Of course, we could not do this work alone, which is why we continue our Friends Feeding Families campaign. The Campaign had its beginnings during the worst of the great recession, and has two primary goals: to increase awareness of the many in our communities who continue to struggle to meet their basic needs 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 host brown bag parties at home or at work, inviting friends to bring non-perishable groceries to donate. If not a party, then we invite you to donate groceries or grocery gift cards at one of our food pantry locations, or make cash gifts in support of our efforts. Your support can make a huge difference in the life of someone experiencing an emergency.
To learn more about ways you can join us in making a difference go to: www.ccab.org.
- Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.