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A reflection on the anniversary of the pandemic

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With COVID-19 vaccines rolling out across the state, the future is promising, but we are not out of the woods.

This month marks one year of living through a deadly pandemic with devastating economic consequences throughout the archdiocese. Thousands of families face job losses, food insecurity, physical and mental health struggles, and financial instability. At no other time has the need for social services been as dire. At Catholic Charities of Boston (CCAB), we continue to respond compassionately to an unprecedented number of neighbors seeking help with life's basic needs.

The economic downturn caused by COVID-19 has significantly affected food security and financial stability in our local communities. According to Feeding America, in Massachusetts, over 617,000 people are struggling with hunger, and of those, over 138,000 are children. Massachusetts has experienced the most significant increase in food insecurity in the nation since the outbreak -- a 59 percent increase overall and a 163 percent increase in child food insecurity.

Weekly demand at CCAB's food pantries is consistently 100 to 200 percent greater than pre-COVID levels, and at high-demand times, the need surges to as much as 500 percent. Our pantries are forecasted to distribute approximately 3 million pounds of food this year, the equivalent of 2.5 million meals. We are thankful for our community partners and donor support to keep the pantries stocked.

The 2019 U.S. Census reported that almost 10 percent of Massachusetts residents live below the poverty line. The pandemic's impact on families who were once financially secure, in addition to those living below the poverty line, has significantly increased the number of community members turning to CCAB for financial assistance. Since March 2020, over 600 clients have received utility and rent support.

One of our clients, a single mother working two jobs while attending nursing school, turned to CCAB to help make ends meet. "If it weren't for Catholic Charities, I would not be able to keep up with my rent, child care costs, and put food on the table. I am so grateful for the support I have received!" she said.

To keep clients and staff healthy and safe, CCAB's program directors shifted many programs -- including adult-education classes, behavioral counseling, refugee and immigrant support -- to virtual services that continue operating remotely today.

In addition to learning to teach online, adult-education teachers continue to assist students with meeting basic needs, unemployment paperwork, and community resources. Access to technology proved to be a barrier to the success of many students in our virtual classes. Program directors partnered with Tech Goes Home, an organization dedicated to addressing digital inequities, to provide new Chromebooks for each student enrolled in adult-education classes. Over 380 students are currently enrolled in classes, up over 8 percent compared to last year.

At the end of June 2020, Massachusetts declared that child care locations across the state could reopen with strict COVID-19 safety guidelines in place. CCAB operates five center-based child care sites and nearly 90 subcontracted family child care locations that, pre-COVID, served over 1,100 infants, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, and school-aged children. After a forced state-wide closing at the onset of the pandemic, child care teachers and staff were ecstatic to welcome back over 400 families last summer. As of March 1, we have over 600 children in our care. We are privileged to provide necessary child care services to allow parents to work.

CCAB's Refugee and Immigrant Service (RIS) division's resettlement team welcomed 59 refugees from 11 different countries since March 2020 -- 91 percent during the height of the pandemic. Community Interpreter Services processed over 8,000 interpreter and translation services via Zoom or phone since the pandemic hit. Interpreters were part of the front-line response, ensuring that those with limited English proficiency understand public health guidelines. RIS provided case management for over 70 migrant children and their families and offered financial assistance, preventing homelessness for over 80 families. RIS's legal services assisted more than 1,100 clients since the pandemic began; over 100 clients received green cards, and more than 25 became U.S. citizens.

With COVID-19 vaccines rolling out across the state, the future is promising, but we are not out of the woods. Our vulnerable community members will continue facing the pandemic's long-term economic effects, and we are here to help support them.

A grateful client recently shared with us: "I feel as though you helped to lift the foot off my neck. I am humbled and thankful because the ends have not met for us in a long time. Your more than generous and kindhearted gift has brought my financial gap closer together."

If you are interested in donating to support your neighbors in need or learning more about CCAB's programs and services, please visit www.ccab.org.

CHRISTINE COFFEY IS DIRECTOR OF MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS FOR CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF BOSTON.



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