November 30, 2007

Be Our Guest / Fr. Larry Snyder

Church steps up to meet growing needs of the most vulnerable in society

As we enter this holiday season, a new report shows that Catholic Charities agencies across our nation are serving an ever-growing number of people—up to nearly 8 million people in 2006.

The report, Poverty in America: Beyond the Numbers, tells an impressive story of outreach by local Catholic Charities agencies across the nation to meet the immediate needs of the poorest and most vulnerable among us, and to empower them to build lives of dignity and economic security.

One important development is that among the many people served by Catholic Charities agencies in 2006 were 4.1 million adults and children who were living below the poverty line of $20,000 a year for a family of four. That means Catholic Charities nationwide served more than one in 10 of those people living in poverty.

But as much as we have done, we know that our work is far from finished.

The Catholic Charities USA report highlights the fact that over the last few years Catholic Charities agencies have seen more and more clients living in poverty. In 2006, 52 percent of Catholic Charities clients were from below the federal poverty line, up from 43 percent in 2002.

The report also shows that there are a growing number of people turning to Catholic Charities for food. In fact, local Catholic Charities agencies saw a 12 percent increase in the need for food service programs in 2006. Between 2002 and 2006, the number of clients receiving food services—such as soup kitchens, food banks and food pantries, home-delivered meals and congregate dining—increased by 2.7 million, or nearly 60 percent.

While the numbers help understand the breadth of our work and of the growing challenge, our focus is always on each and every individual who comes to us: the hungry, the homeless, the working poor burdened with high utility costs and unexpected medical bills that can demolish their tight budgets.

Poverty is a moral and social crisis. Our Catholic values tell us that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, no matter how well hidden that is. Therefore, they are worthy of dignity and respect, and that if any are in need then we share in the responsibility to help them.

Catholic Charities agencies are taking their knowledge of the causes, scope and ramifications of poverty and seeking to empower people to take charge of their lives and engage in determining their future.

And we are working hard to improve programs and change government policies that affect those living in poverty. While it’s true that certain choices and behaviors can lead individuals into poverty, the fact is that far more often the greater fault lies with the social and economic structures that shape the opportunities for the poor.

For these reasons, Catholic Charities USA has launched the Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America with the goal of cutting the U.S. poverty rate in half by 2020.

We are calling on individuals, local communities and government leaders to give the needs of the working poor a higher priority in budget and policy decisions in four main areas: health, hunger, housing and economic security.

Catholic Charities agencies across the country are working hard to provide help and give hope this holiday season. We need people to join our efforts in serving those in need by volunteering in your community agencies, donating to your local Catholic Charities or supporting the Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America.

The more support we have, the more we can make a real difference in the lives of so many of the most vulnerable among us—in this holiday season and throughout the years ahead.

To read Poverty in America: Beyond the Numbers or to learn more about the Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America, visit

(Father Larry Snyder is the president of Catholic Charities USA. Catholic Charities USA’s members—more than 1,700 local agencies and institutions nationwide—provide help and create hope for more than 7.8 million people a year regardless of religious, social or economic backgrounds. For more than 280 years, local Catholic Charities agencies have been providing a myriad of vital services in their communities ranging from day care and counseling to food and housing.) †

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