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Catholic Charities: A look at food insecurity in our community

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With growing concerns about the current COVID-19 pandemic and schools and offices closing for weeks, many families will be put in a tight spot.

March is National Nutrition Month, an education and information campaign that focuses on encouraging healthier food and activity choices. The campaign also highlights nutrition challenges that are faced by people nationwide each day, including food insecurity, something that we see day in and day out at Catholic Charities of Boston.

According to a report by the Greater Boston Food Bank, about one in 11 people in Eastern Massachusetts, the area that Catholic Charities of Boston (CCAB) serves, are food insecure. Children are more heavily impacted by food insecurity, and reports show that one in eight Massachusetts children face hunger daily. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

In a time when the cost of living continues to rise with soaring housing costs, health care and child care, about 10 percent of the population of Massachusetts is currently living below the federal poverty line. The living wage for a single parent, two-child household in Boston is calculated to be around $79,000 a year, approximately $38 an hour for a full-time worker, whereas the annual income for a 40-hour per week minimum wage job is $24,960 ($12 per hour).

With little money left over to put food on the table after paying the bills, many members of our community are not only unsure of where their next meal is coming from, but also often cannot afford the basic groceries needed to nourish their families.

I am privileged to be a deputy director of Catholic Charities' Greater Boston division, where we provide a variety of programs and services to help our neighbors in need, including basic needs, adult education, child care, English for speakers of other languages courses, family support services, shelters, youth education, and food pantries.

Catholic Charities of Boston operates five food pantry locations, serving communities that are most in-need in Boston's South End, Brockton, Dorchester, Lowell, and Somerville. We provide a wrap-around food security system for our community members that includes emergency food assistance, assistance signing up for public benefits, nutrition education and connections to additional community resources and programs and services available through CCAB. Our goal is to help people achieve financial stability and self-sufficiency.

As a direct-service agency, CCAB partners with other organizations to help get nutritious food to our neighbors who are hungry, including the Greater Boston Food Bank. We also receive donations from local stores and parishes and are exceptionally grateful for these partnerships that help us keep our pantries stocked each month with fresh produce, canned goods, and other staples that local families rely on.

Each year, our five food pantries provide over 2.5 million pounds of food to over 100,000 individuals and families in our neighborhoods. To paint a clearer picture of what that looks like on a monthly basis, in November 2019, for example, we served 7,732 individuals, 56 percent of whom were between ages 18 to 64. Each client receives approximately 28 pounds of food per month from our pantries. It is our goal to ensure that they have what they need to sustain their families when their monthly income will not cover it.

With growing concerns about the current COVID-19 pandemic and schools and offices closing for weeks, many families will be put in a tight spot. There is an influx of need at our food pantries and we are relying on donations to help feed our neighbors. We would be so appreciative of donations of food and grocery store gift cards if you are interested in helping out.

Further, beginning April 1, new government rules will prohibit many people's access to the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). We foresee this leading many more individuals and families to our pantries for assistance in putting food on their tables.

With so much need in our neighborhoods, we rely heavily on volunteers and donations to service this need, and this will be even more essential during the coming weeks and months. If you are interested in volunteering, donating, or learning more about our pantry operations, I would be happy to speak with you. Please reach out to me via email at Stephen_Fulton@ccab.org or at 617-506-6600 ext. 6674.

To learn more about Catholic Charities of Boston, please visit ccab.org.


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