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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Interfaith Charities Respond to Economic Need

By Cecile Lusby

The opportunity to attend a seminar on reducing poverty drew this writer to Resurrection Church in West Santa Rosa on September 28 to hear Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA and newly appointed by Barrack Obama to sit on the President’s Council of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Fr. Snyder’s presentation stressed that 39.8 million people now live in poverty in America, based on the 2009 guidelines naming $22,050 yearly income as the poverty line for a family of four. That 39.8 million is projected to reach 50 million before the recovery takes hold, due to the delay in jobs creation. One stark number stands out as reflecting the depth of current distress: Twenty-five percent (25%) of Americans do not have any tangible assets—no house, no savings, nothing other than their wages and expenses. Most individuals hidden inside these statistics are too young, too old, or too infirm to work.

CCUSA works to reduce poverty within Catholic organizations and in collaboration with many interdenominational charities, having blazed a respected path of good works serving homeless youth and families, the rural poor, and immigrant communities. Catholic Charities’ new goal is to cut poverty in half by 2020, and to this end Father Snyder seek discussions to change the public will to act to change policy in five areas of concern:
1. Hunger
2. Health Care
3. Housing
4. Job Training
5. Education

Catholic Charities focuses on these areas of concern to reduce poverty. Each benchmark presents opportunities at a local level in schools, clinics, and food pantries. We who serve in Sonoma County, as this writer does at the Interchurch Pantry of Sebastopol, function on the local level. Fr. Snyder suggested two reasons for such work:

1. The call of citizenship requires that we care about our community.
2. Faith-based organizations serve as a moral response to human suffering. People of faith have no other choice but to care and help.

Recently CCUSA has been working with some governmental agencies, such as HUD and Children’s Health Insurance Program, while adding to input and design of the new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. ARRA is a new bill that attempts to create jobs and restore economic growth with the basic intention of protecting those in greatest need. See As government money dries up, the new challenge is to find local non-profits or private donors to help fill the gap in giving.

Father Snyder reminded the participants that activists are beginning to study American poverty by comparing it to other countries and using the United Nations model for analyzing any nation by its quality of life and human development according to three standards.

1. Long, healthy life
2. Access to Knowledge
3. Decent Standard of Living

Somewhere between 1980 and 2005, the quality of life in the USA, as measured by the above criteria, dropped from second in the world to twentieth place. We have to take a hard look at our infant mortality rates and increase health care coverage for our children. To help ensure access to knowledge and education, we need to recognize that every day in American 6000 youngsters drop out of school. Students reading below grade level at the end of third grade are at great risk of failure for the balance of their school years, and intervention before this point could help retain students. To pursue the hope of a decent standard of living, we need to maintain job-training programs for our youth, or retraining for adults in industries where layoffs have most affected our workforce.

Fr. Snyder left a quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world; Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

Readers can step up to help agencies combat poverty and its effects. Contribute to the Food Bank, Interchurch Pantry, or other charities who work for ‘food security’, be a mentor to a young person, call the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County and offer your time at 573-3399, or write your congressperson to grant health insurance to all children, if not all citizens.

Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa:

Volunteer Center, Santa Rosa:

Redwood Empire Food bank, Santa Rosa:

Elisha’s Interfaith Food Pantry:

California Harvest Interfaith Food Banks:

The Sebastopol Interchurch Food Pantry:

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