Archive for October, 2011

Why I’m Living on a Food Stamp Budget

Friday, October 28th, 2011


This is the third in a series of posts about Catholic Charities’ participation in a nationwide initiative known as the “Food Stamp Challenge.Those taking part in the challenge must live for a week on a food budget of $31.50 total — the average allotment for an individual on Food Stamps.

By Richard Bertin

I’m taking the Food Stamp Challenge. And I think you should too. That’s right — for the next week, I will be subsisting on the food budget of someone on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Program (SNAP), more commonly known as “Food Stamps.” We are so used to hearing about starving populations in underdeveloped countries that we can be fooled into thinking that this doesn’t happen in our own backyard. Well it does. Nearly 50 million American families are food-insecure.

I hope that by taking this “Food Stamp Challenge,” I’ll be able to gain an emotional and physical perspective on our nation’s hunger crisis. It’s easy to talk about stats and figures, but it’s another thing to actually experience what poverty means, and feels like.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it, but when I first moved out of my parents house I was used to relying on dollar menus and ramen noodles to get me through the week, so I feel that I’m prepared.

If you’ve been following the challenge, you know the rules. I have $31.50 to spend on food for the entire week – the average weekly allotment for an individual on food stamps. That means no more office coffee and donuts for me, no other free food – including those chocolates my boss gives out every now and then – and definitely no restaurants.

Participants can use coupons to shop, but can’t eat any items already in the fridge or pantry as part of the food supply for a total of 7 days.

My Shopping List

Since I’ve been asked so many times, I’m sharing my shopping list for the challenge. Just for fun, I also kept track of the expenses of my “last meal” that I had before I went shopping – ironically, I spent $31.25 on a meal for two of burgers and fries at a popular burger shop near my school, New York Burger Co.

Then, I went to my neighborhood Pathmark in the Coop City area of the Bronx and ended up with the following:

  • (5) cups of Yoplait Yogurt (5 for $4)
  • Bananas
  • Florida’s Natural Orange Juice (no pulp!)
  • Organic peanut butter by some brand I never heard of
  • Loaf of bread that was packaged in a design strangely similar to Wonder Bread.
  • (2) bowls of Annie Chun’s Ramen Noodles (Say what you about ramen noodles, but Annie Chun is in a totally different class!)
  • (2) Cans of soup (vegetable barley was .99 cents each)
  • Box of “Pathmark” branded granola bars
  • 5-pack of Chiquita apple slices & dip

The total of all this was $24.77, which leaves me with $6.73 for “emergency funds.” My strategy was to only spend close to $25 so that I can have at least some cash left over so I can treat myself to a quick NY hotdog or slice of pizza.

Throughout the next week, I’ll be answering your questions about the challenge here and on Facebook — just leave a note on the wall, or a comment below, and I’ll answer you as best as I can.

Please leave your words of advice or encouragement below – I’ll need it!

Take the Food Stamp Challenge

Monday, October 24th, 2011


By Marianna Reilly

Could you survive on $1.50 per meal – for an entire week?

October 27 to November 6, we challenge you do just this. Join us in taking the Food Stamp Challenge, and learn what it is like to subsist on a food budget of only $31.50 per week – the average weekly allotment for an individual who receives food stamps. Participants are challenged to only consume food purchased for the challenge (that means no free office coffee, no stocked-up pantry items).

It will be hard, but you will be in good company.

Joining in you in taking on this challenge will be Catholic Charities Executive Director, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Justice and Peace Coordinator Tom Dobbins, and Richard Bertin, associate producer of the Sirius Radio show JustLove will all be subsisting on a food stamp budget and blogging about their experiences right here.

We want to hear from you too: Tell us about your victories, your struggles… and your best low-cost meal ideas, to support the rest of us who are trying to make it through a week with no restaurants.

Accept the challenge on Facebook today!

Here are the Challenge Guidelines:

1. Each person can only spend a total of $31.50 on food and beverages during the Challenge week – this translates to $4.50 per day, or $1.50 per meal.

2. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out must be included in the total spending.

3. During the Challenge, eat only food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food that you already own (this does not include spices and condiments).

4. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including food at receptions or coffee in the office

5. Please keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week.

6. Share your Food Stamp Challenge by writing an op-ed for your local newspaper, blogging, sharing a reflection on the Fighting Poverty with Faith website, advocating for feeding programs, and more.

7. Donate the additional money you would have spent on food during this week to a local food bank or anti-hunger advocacy organization (optional).

Will you join us? Accept the Challenge now.

The “Elder Boom” and the Call for Care

Monday, October 17th, 2011


By Marianna Reilly

According to the Census Bureau, the number of adults aged 65 and older will more than double by 2030, rising to a total of 88.5 million, or 19% of the U.S. population. And don’t just expect short-term growth – now that the life expectancy of women is 80.6 years and 75.5 years for men, adults 85 years and older are expected to be the fastest-growing elderly demographic in the next century.

How should we be thinking about (or rethinking) public policy in light of these demographic shifts?  Dr. Martha Bial, director of Fordham University’s Japanese and American Institute in Gerontology and faculty research scholar at the Ravazzin Center on Aging, recently spoke with Catholic Charities executive director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan about this important topic on JustLove, Catholic Charities’ weekly Sirius/XM Radio show.

 Social Security

“The elder boom has enormous implications for the funding of social security, and implications for how to keep pensions sustainable.” said Bial. “When social security was first put into effect, the average life expectancy was 65. It was supposed to be a very short-term thing. But now, people are generally living healthier. The average life expectancy is now around 82 years.” Bial noted that increasing the retirement age would have repercussions throughout the employment landscape, for all ages – affecting the ways we think about the elder work force, what is expected from workers, and the availability of jobs.

Japan as Model for Elder Care

Bial said that much can be learned about handle an aging population from Japan and other Asian countries, where an increase in women working and a shrink in the size of households is leaving many elderly adults without caretakers. “It used to be that there would be many multigenerational households in Japan,” said Bial. “Traditionally, an elder widow or widower would move in with married children… but now that’s happening with less than half of Japanese families.”

“[Japan] moved from a young society to an old society faster because they have a very low birth rate and almost no immigration,” said Bial. “The United States has some of these same issues, but we have a large immigrant population that provides a lot of the elder care.”

The “Well Elderly”

In addition to thinking about Social Security, Bial encourages us to also consider the “Well Elderly” – older adults from ages 65 to past 100 who are healthy, active, and still have a desire to work. For this group, we should think about their sources of income and safe, adequate housing. Employers should be proactive in creating flexible employment policies, she said, so that if elder employees’ stamina or desire to work decreases, employment requirements can be adjusted.

And as a related issue, we should consider making more public transportation options available for the members of the elderly workforce who might not be able to drive. This will enable them to make the contributions to society that they are still able to make.


The Caretaker’s Guide

There are many resources available online for caretakers of the elderly. If you are caring for a family member, we encourage you to seek support and guidance from a large, vibrant community that is eager to help.

Share your own favorite resources with us by leaving a comment – we look forward to keeping this guide as complete and up-to-date as possible.


Catholic Charities Case Management and Senior Centers

Case Management

Call 888-744-7900 or submit a request for services online through the Catholic Charities Help Line. From 2010 – 2011, Catholic Charities case managers provided assistance to 78 seniors in need.

Senior Centers

Catholic Charities senior centers serve an average of 185 seniors each day. Contact one of the centers below to take advantage of activities and resources, and to join a vibrant community of older adults.

Catholic Charities Community Services Senior Guild, 120 Anderson Ave., Port Richmond, Staten Island. Call: 718-448-5757.

West Brighton Senior Center, 230 Broadway, West Brighton, Staten Island. Call: 718-727-9763

Stapleton Senior Center, 189 Gordon Street, Staten Island. Call: 718 876-5660


Government Sites

Usa.Gov Caregivers’ Resources

Find a nursing home, assisted living, or hospice; check your eligibility for benefits; get resources for long-distance caregiving; review legal issues; and find support for caregivers.

US Administration on Aging

Statistics, facts and program results, in addition to information on emergency preparedness, national benefits programs, and long-term care planning.


Health and wellness information for older adults from the National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine.

Includes interactive tools for planning and paying for long-term care and nursing facilities, and for choosing among drug plans.


Online Communities for Caregivers

Family Caregiver Alliance Programs on information, education, services, research and advocacy support the work of family caregivers. Includes caregiver tips, personal stories and photos, fact sheets and publications, discussion groups and newsletters.

Family Caregiving 101 Resources, FAQ, and quality information on how to deal with the challenges of caregiving.

CARING.COM Advice, articles, and an extensive directory of senior living resources. Also features a guide to Alzheimer’s care.

Children of Aging Parents. Support groups, both online and face-to-face. Newsletter focuses on interpersonal matters like stress among siblings, caregiver depression and getting through the holidays.

The New Old Age blog (New York Times)

Most adults over age 80 will spend years dependent on their baby boomer children for their basic needs. “The New Old Age” explores this intergenerational challenge.


Housing and Living

National Center for Assisted Living

Take the easy 12-question “Needs Assessment” quiz to evaluate your care needs.

The Senior Living Guide

Includes easy-to-navigate directories for active adults, retirees, Alzheimer’s patients and more.


Research and Articles

The Ravazzin Center at Fordham University

The Center has engaged in a variety of research projects designed to examine the role of social work in helping older adults and family members understand end of life issues and planning tools.

Geriatric Mental Health Policy and Practice

A collection of articles by Michael B. Friedman, social advocate and Columbia University Professor in the field of geriatric policy and practice.

Have you experienced “Vulture Culture”?

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011


Vulture Culture

By Jacqueline LoFaro

October 5, 2011 — Social critics have called bullying the result of our “vulture culture:”  the premeditated harm of the human spirit—and often body–by any aggressive derision or attack.  It can be by one or a group of aggressors.  The victim is usually “weaker” than the attacker[s]: smaller, younger, or , “different.”  The aggressors are “vultures” because they feed on the “weaknesses” of their prey until they are psychically satisfied; reassured of their own superiority.  Pre-schoolers learn to bully from their older sibs, teens learn it from their cohorts and parents and we all learn to be vultures from TV programming that puts “contestants in humiliating situations for our enjoyment.  Stripped of their human dignity they become fodder for our fun. Online bullying has created attack with little possibility for defense.  The bullies can be anonymous; a group of bullies can grow.  Lies about victims can spread quickly.  Reputations are ruined overnight.  The vultures soar over their victims.

Our faith, however, proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation for a moral vision of society.   The intentional targeting of any victim—whether for destruction, bullying or entertainment–is always wrong because every single person is precious.   People are more important than status or pleasure, things or victory.

Have you experienced “Vulture Culture” in your everyday life?

Why We Shouldn’t Use the Word “Poverty”

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

We are becoming a poorer nation. The median income for a male full-time worker has remained virtually unchanged since 1973. In 2010, the poverty level increased from 14.3% in 2009 to 15.1%. In New York alone, 63,000 additional people fell below the poverty line last year, and the nationwide child poverty rate grew by a whopping 18% during the past decade.

Instead of moving forward, we are moving backward.

It seems that in our talk about spending and taxes, there’s a little too much anger and yelling – and also, a little too much use of the word “poverty.”

Poverty is a concept. Talking about poverty can blind us to the actual experience of being poor, which for many, means:

–          Your child doesn’t get a good education

–          Your family can’t get a nutritious meal

–          Your senior parent is living in housing that is unsafe, or unhealthy

–          The breadwinner in your family can’t find a job

This is not some abstract notion of “poverty” referred to in political speeches or Census analytics. It’s the cold, hard reality of being poor.

It seems the only question before us is: Can we provide the basic necessities for our population? What we need to try to work for as a society and as an economy is to make sure that everybody has access to the things that make us human – a place to live that’s safe, decent food to eat, and a job… for indeed, contributing to society through work and labor is part of what it means to be human.

If we could just think and talk in terms of people who are poor, and the challenges they endure — if we could shift the conversation from the abstract to the actual reality, then we might finally be able to get somewhere.

Do you agree? Do you see a difference between “poverty” and “being poor”?

Two Families United by Adoption and One Dominican Nun

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011


By Shawn M. Donovan

The following Catholic Charities story was submitted by Shawn M. Donovan, a supporter of Catholic Charities New York, and the adoptive father of a daughter adopted through the Catholic Guardian Society and Home Bureau. His daughter Sarah, now 27 years old, recently met her birth mother along with Donovan and her adoptive family. She is considering a career in social work. Share your own Catholic Charities story. Two Families

Twenty-seven years ago in June, 1984, a special event happened. A beautiful daughter was born to a young woman, Susan, who grew up in NY and became pregnant during college. Realizing she was in no position to give the care needed for her daughter, Susan made the very hard decision to give her new baby up for adoption. Approaching the Catholic Guardian Society and Home Bureau, an agency of Catholic Charities, Susan’s daughter was placed within days of her birth in the care of my wife Margaret and I. We also had a five-year old son, Elias Daniel, adopted through the Catholic Home Bureau and now had the complete family we wanted. We named our new daughter Sarah Rose.

As a condition for giving her daughter up for adoption, Susan asked that hers be an ‘open adoption’ which the Catholic Home Bureau did not permit at the time. As an alternative, the opening of a communication channel was suggested between Susan, Shawn and Margaret via the Catholic Home Bureau so that news about Sarah could be received periodically. And so began an unusual story of two families united by adoption and a relationship mediated by Sister Una McCormack, the now-retired executive director of the Catholic Home Bureau. Sr. Una was dedicated to helping us communicate via mail and first names only: Susan, Sarah, Shawn, Margaret and Elias.

For more than twenty-years, I sent periodic letters to Sr. Una to be passed on to Susan.  Enclosed in those letters were photographs of Sarah and Elias growing up, along with artwork drawn by Sarah. In return, Susan faithfully sent birthday gifts and Christmas presents not only to Sarah, but Elias as well. This went on from 1984 and continued even after Sister Una retired. Along the way, the individual relationship we all had with Sr. Una deepened as well. Eventually, Sarah became a young woman and expressed interest in knowing Susan and perhaps one day meeting her birth mother.

About six years ago Susan and Sarah (then 21 years of age) established direct contact via email and later cell phone. Eventually, I was in direct contact with Susan as well. Five years ago, Susan visited Sarah, Margaret and I in New Hampshire. Though brief, the visit changed our relationship in wonderful ways.

This past summer, in July 2011, Susan, along with her own mother and daughter, visited again, and stayed for a longer time. Sarah’s extended family went to a barbecue dinner in Woodstock, Vermont, and the next day spent a morning walking around the Dartmouth College campus and then took a woods walk along the Connecticut River together. One evening, Sarah and her boyfriend played miniature golf with Susan and her family. 

After 27 years, Sarah now has a new grandmother and a new half-sister and a deepening relationship with her birth mother, Susan.  And Susan, Margaret and I completed a journey together that was started by Sr. Una and Catholic Charities in the summer of 1984. 

Sarah graduated from the University of New Hampshire four years ago, recently graduated with her MBA from Franklin Pierce University, and is interested in a career in social work. Elias graduated from Brown University and works in New York City.