Archive for November, 2011

Our Call to Feed the Hungry — Not Only at Thanksgiving

Monday, November 21st, 2011

By Tom Dobbins, Jr.

November 21, 2011 — One of my favorite spots in the city is on the banks of the Hudson River — approximately 5 blocks west of where Wall Street has been being occupied. There, you’ll find New York City’s memorial to the Irish famine that lasted from 1845 to 1852 – a tragedy that began with a blighted potato crop and was exacerbated by political inaction.

One-third of the people living in Ireland at that time – one half million – died of starvation, and another third – of whom I am a living descendent – emigrated in a great diaspora to any ports that would welcome them all over the world. The memorial is beautiful: a rugged half-acre of cantilevered landscape thickly planted with native Irish flora and plants growing in fallow fields, along with the remains of an authentic, famine-era Irish cottage. Accounts of historical and contemporary sentiments about worldwide hunger are etched in the base of glass and broadcast from an audio installation. While raising awareness about an event that happened long ago, the space also encourages visitors to address the causes of hunger world-wide.

Catholic Charities Thanksgiving Meal Distribution

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities New York, giving food to a Catholic Charities client at our annual Thanksgiving Meal Distribution

Hunger has been in my thoughts a lot lately, primarily because for the past week I have been participating in the “Food Stamp Challenge,” a campaign sponsored by “Fighting Poverty with Faith” – and of which Catholic Charities is a partnering organization. The goal for participants in the Challenge is to live for one week on the benefit given to those on Food Stamps – approximately $31.50 per week, or $4.50 a day. Here in New York City, that money doesn’t go very far.

My meals for the week consisted mostly of oatmeal, brown rice, frozen vegetables and on-sale chunk light tuna. Except for a Saturday night treat of a 10-piece McNugget, I pretty much stuck to the challenge, winding up with just under $5 left over week’s end.

The experience reminded me of when I visited Tanzania with Catholic Relief Services last September, and lived off a diet of white rice and sauerkraut. It would have been obscene to complain about the food I was given after witnessing the food assistance work done by Catholic Relief Services in the drought-ravaged Horn of Africa.

The Food Stamp Challenge comes at a time of great challenge to our nation and its moral commitment to feed the hungry. The Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is working on a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion dollars; the day that this deficit reduction plan is due is – ironically – the day before Thanksgiving. Many are concerned that food stamp assistance might be a target for massive funding cuts.

The U.S. Bishops and Catholic Relief Services are both now advocating with Congress and the Administration to ensure that hunger-related assistance is not compromised in the deficit-reduction debate.

For Christians, feeding the hungry is not some peripheral “nice thing” that we should do if we’ve got the time – it’s literally part of our “final exam” that Jesus told us about on the Sermon on the Mount, along with clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger and caring for the ill. In fact, Pope

Benedict XVI went so far as to say: “liberation from the yoke of hunger is the first concrete manifestation of the right to life, which – despite its having been solemnly proclaimed – is often very far from being fulfilled effectively.”

It’s up to us to ensure that what has been solemnly proclaimed is effectively fulfilled. While the rest of the world’s attention is focused on the 99% fighting the alleged evils of the top 1%, with the 53% somewhere in the middle, let’s be sure that our attention is focused on the 15% of Americans who live below the poverty level (and the much larger percentage of our impoverished brothers and sisters in the rest of the world).

New York State education officials vote to open up educational opportunities for undocumented students

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities New York, along with other faith, labor and civic leaders, joined the Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, and the State Education Department Commissioner to announce the vote by the Regents to support extension of the state’s Tuition Assistance Program to all students, regardless of immigration status.

“Congratulations to the Board of Regents for moving NYS one step closer to affording young immigrants greater opportunities for higher education,” applauded Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York. “Providing opportunities to young people brought here by no fault or action of their own, is one specific step NY can take to ensure newcomers to our state are well prepared for the future. NYS Dreamers have talents that we must help develop – for they will be the future talents of this country, the only one they know and call home. As we continue to work together for comprehensive immigration reform, there are significant specific administrative and legislative initiatives that can be tackled by federal, state and local governments. We need to work together to achieve these.”

Read the full article in the New York Immigration Coalition.

Watch video of the event from the New York Immigration Coalition.

Parish Spotlight: St. Cecilia’s in East Harlem

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

By Marianna Reilly

November 10, 2011 — If you have ever paid a visit to St. Cecilia’s Parish in East Harlem, you know that it is not your typical national landmark. Far from being merely architecturally astounding, it is one of the most beautiful examples of Catholic service in our community. For more than a century, the parish has been dedicated to helping our neighbors in need in New York.

St. Cecilia's Parish

St. Cecilia's Parish in New York is a National Historic Landmark and an example of Catholic charity in East Harlem. View photos of volunteers helping out at St. Cecilia's food pantry on Facebook.

Originally the church of the Irish community in New York when it was established in 1883, St. Cecilia currently ministers to a diverse parish community from all parts of the world, including Italy, Jamaica, Philippines, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Africa, Germany and Ireland.

Parish community services include a food pantry, Narcotics Anonymous, Justicia en el Barrio, HIV Momentum Project, and more. The Parish Service Center, established in 1972 and funded by Catholic Charities New York, provides counseling, responds to health problems, and assists with family crises. At this service-driven church, the needs of the people of East Harlem are handled with compassion and respect.

A Day Nursery, which cares for the children of working mothers, is still run by the Sisters of Atonement, who first established the program at St. Cecilia’s in 1927, and a summer program, operated in partnership with Catholic Charities and the East Harlem Community Corporation, provides recreational, cultural and religious enrichment opportunities for local youth.

Recently, Catholic Charities was awarded $10,000 by the RealNetworks Foundation to support services at St. Cecilia’s, specifically emergency food and emergency relief services.

Fathers Stevens, Holland, Smith and Brinkmann serve as the current chaplains of nearby Mt. Sinai Hospital, Fifth Avenue Hospital and The Flower Free Surgical Hospital.

Members of the St. Cecilia’s parish community, together with those from Our Lady Queen of Angels, under Father Raymond Hand, O.F.M., Cap., also sponsor a narcotics treatment center called “Enter.” The program offers a soup kitchen, beds, a detoxification program and therapy to all who come for help. Constant clothing and food drives run through both parishes help support of this vast undertaking.

Are you a member of St. Cecilia’s parish and volunteer in one of their ministries? Share your experience with us.

Tell us: Which parish in the New York Archdiocese should we highlight next?

Day 5 of the Food Stamp Challenge: How Obesity is Connected to Poverty

Wednesday, November 2nd, 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

November 2, 2011 — Five days into the Food Stamp Challenge and I feel like a beaten man.

– I’m much more tired than usual.
– My mind keeps wandering off.
– I’m grumpier.
– Also, I can’t stand the sight of another peanut butter sandwich.

It only took a few days of painfully bland but carefully rationed canned soup dinners to (1) realize that I was depriving myself of energy and (2) understand why obesity is more prevalent among the poorer American population.

Yesterday, after my banana-and-yogurt breakfast, I went to the gym – and approximately 20 minutes into my workout, I flat out ran out of gas.

I was getting used to subduing my hunger, but there was no trick to get around the fact that my body was not ingesting enough calories to sustain myself. With barely $2 left for “emergency” food, I darted into the nearest Burger King.

Over the past few days, my caloric intake was barely getting past 1000. And yes, that is partly my fault for not properly strategizing my grocery list. Looking at the calorie counts on the menu board, it was easy to find single items with two times the calories I was now used to ingesting. I dove into a whopper and fries and threw up my white flag for the day.

Then I looked around, and saw a number of families with children also feasting on their meals. I saw a number of elderly folks as well.  The place was packed and it wasn’t even noon. This can’t be right, I thought.

When you are hungry, the last thing on your mind is nutrition. And when you are poor, fast food is a cheap remedy for an empty stomach. It’s largely by design that so many fast food chains are in poor urban areas.  I know how bad fast food is nutritionally, but when I was hungry, with little more than spare change in my pocket, there was no way I could pass up a whopper.

Even when I’m not living on $31/week, I am exhausted after getting home late from a work and school, plus an hour and half train and bus ride. The last thing I have energy for is cooking a nutritious meal.

So what about the more physical lives of poorer people? Many work more than one job. Many are on their feet longer than the typical office lackey, and many have to carve time out of the day to attend to children.  Fast food is an easy solution for hectic lives.

But relying on fast food can quickly lead to an overconsumption of calories.  Add that to the poor nutritional value of fast food, and it’s not hard to see why obesity is a common mark of a poor urban area.

So don’t be so quick to point to the obesity epidemic as evidence that hunger is not a serious problem in America. Because hunger and obesity are both components of a larger issue: poverty.