Column by Cindy O’Connor
January is Poverty Awareness Month, a month-long initiative to raise awareness and call attention to the growth of poverty. Across the Diocese, 14% of all households live below the federal poverty line. In Bedford, Centre, Clinton counties, there is a 5% increase over the previous year. What does living in poverty mean? For a family of four, they earn less than $26,500 a year. Even putting food on the table is a challenge as 12% of all families experience food insecurity and cannot feed their families.
The pandemic has only made these conditions worse. People who have never needed help with basic necessities, now find themselves struggling. Those that were on the edge of not making it have been pushed over. The safety nets of food pantries and clothing donations are stretched to capacity. Special government programs are ending or have run out. Our neighbors and communities are hurting.
It can feel overwhelming and the challenges too great for just one person to help. Any time we build a bridge of respect and relationship to someone else, we make a stronger community. However, you can start right where you are. Anyone can connect, donate, and support, and here are a few ideas.
· Connect with a senior citizen who could use a friend to check in on them or take them for groceries or to an appointment. Your parish office can let you know of persons who are isolated and could use some company.
· Donate to a food pantry or shelter, what they need most might surprise you. Toiletry items, detergent, diapers, wipes, and cleaning products are always in demand. A family with a new baby could always use diapers, wipes, or gift cards to buy all the things a little one needs.
· Support a family with a child in the military contributing to a box of goodies to send. Write a note of encouragement to a teacher or healthcare worker would appreciate a note or gift card for coffee.
Catholic Charities has been serving Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clinton, Fulton, Huntingdon, and Somerset counties more than 75 years. As the needs have increased, we are working to expand our ability to provide support and care. In the coming months we will be sharing some of the good news of our growth.
“Works of love directed to one’s neighbor are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit….” -Pope Francis. We have received grace and we can extend that to others. Catholic Charities has a place for you to serve. Reach out today to us at (814) 944-9388 or (814) 535-6538.
Cindy O’Connor is the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.