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Whenever I meet someone for the first time and the conversation moves to sharing more about the work of Catholic Charities, I find that people are genuinely surprised to learn the extent of requests for basic needs services in our communities. Despite promising job growth numbers and reported decreases in unemployment, requests for food continue their steady increase as do requests for rental, heat and utility assistance.
Our capacity to meet the increased need for food assistance has been greatly increased thanks to new funding targeted towards improving our operational capacity to distribute food. In December Catholic Charities received a generous grant from Jane's Trust to support our food pantries. The grant provided funds to purchase a truck that has allowed us to pick up and deliver even more food to our food pantries. Our largest food pantries are now distributing 15,000 pounds of food per week, up by 3,000 pounds per week. We have also been able distribute healthier foods, including the fresh produce that, in these difficult economic times, so many cannot afford on their own.
For many years, Catholic Charities has served as the safety net for those struggling to get by in Greater Boston. Our food pantries and emergency assistance programs help those working and living in our communities, providing for the basic needs they require to stay self-sufficient, to continue working, going to school and contributing to society. We are not alone in our push to ensure everyone in need has access to food, clothing and a safe place to live.
One long-time champion in the fight against hunger is philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein. His story is an interesting and unusual one. Massachusetts born and raised, Feinstein began his career as a teacher. Following his graduation from Boston Teachers College, Feinstein taught in Massachusetts public schools for a number of years before marrying and settling in Rhode Island. It was there that he and his wife, a child psychiatrist, raised their family.
Feinstein eventually left teaching to begin a career as a financial advice newsletter writer while also building his own successful collectibles business. Feinstein explains that "as the years passed my interest in children's causes and in helping the needy grew, finally overriding my desire to keep making money. So, in 1999, I decided to retire from business and establish a philanthropic foundation with the bulk of the fortune I had accumulated. Over the next few years, my philanthropy evolved into two main efforts -- a scholarship/school program promoting youngsters doing good deeds for others, and, starting in 1996, an annual $1 million giveaway to anti-hunger agencies nationwide for them to use as a spur to their own fund raising."
This year marks the 15th Annual Feinstein Challenge, a $1 million giveaway to fight hunger. The challenge is designed to increase and leverage local fundraising efforts in the fight against hunger. Every dollar raised by anti-hunger programs that join in the Challenge is matched by Feinstein up to $1 million. Over the past 14 years, the Challenge has raised $1.25 billion: it is often called the most successful ongoing effort ever to fight hunger.
Catholic Charities is participating in this year's Feinstein Challenge, which runs during the months of March and April. Donations received during this time for basic needs services will count towards the Feinstein Challenge. You can show your support for Catholic Charities knowing it will be used in a strong effort to fight hunger alongside one of our region's most generous philanthropists. You can support this combined effort by making a gift and returning the envelope in this edition of The Pilot. Thank you for helping us to meet the Feinstein Challenge and keep our food pantries stocked.
Debbie Rambo is president of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.