September 14, 2018

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

In today’s America, poverty isn’t someone else’s problem, it’s ours

David BethuramFood is a gift. For many, gratitude for that gift is expressed in a blessing before meals. We are grateful for the gift of nourishment and strength for the active, healthy life it provides.

Whether it’s a meal at home or in a restaurant, odds are most people choose the foods that support their unique tastes and nutritional needs. But what if poverty robbed you of that choice? Would you have the health and energy for school or work? Who would you turn to for help?

The connection is simple: food equals health, and health aids in wealth and security. Catholic Charities understands that connection and works to provide a choice of foods through our various food programs.

Poverty and hunger go hand in hand. According to, the poverty rate in 2017 was 14.8 percent of the U.S. population. Sounds low until you realize this is 46.7 million people. That means one out of every five children in our country is living in poverty. 

Poverty isn’t someone else’s problem, it’s ours. Feeding Indiana’s Hungry revealed in May that food insecurity exists in every county in Indiana. Overall food insecurity in Indiana ranges from a low of 8.8 percent of the population in Hamilton County up to 18.3 percent in Marion County. The statewide average food insecurity rate is 13.7 percent; the national average is 14 percent.

Compounding the financial constraints poverty brings is the problem of food deserts (areas without nearby supermarkets or food outlets). Without a personal vehicle or mass transit, getting groceries can be problematic.

Families living in poverty often only have access to convenience stores, and for those living on the streets, the challenges become even greater due to the lack of refrigeration. We also have experienced individuals requesting a can opener to open the items. They may have canned goods but can’t open them. 

Food is health. Without quality food, physical and emotional well-being can suffer. People in poverty worry about their ability to survive and find their next meal. Few choices mean compromising on basic health concerns. Does this have too much salt? Is this safe to eat? Getting sick or having a sick child means missing work. A domino effect begins when missed hours equals less pay. Less pay means not being able to pay rent, and missing a rent payment can lead to eviction and even homelessness.

The Church provides much needed food programs through Catholic Charities, parish food pantries and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Catholic Charities also provides summer food programs for children and youths, and with the generosity of donors and thousands of volunteers, prepares quality food served daily in our shelter and housing programs. Without these vital ministries and the support of amazing volunteers and donors, thousands more would be vulnerable to starting a downward spiral of health, income and housing.

Food is wealth and security. Virgil, traditionally known as one of Rome’s greatest poets, once said, “the greatest wealth is health,” and we see that connection every day at Catholic Charities. It’s no coincidence that 65 percent of program users say they have a chronic health issue or mental or physical disability. Access to reliable, nutritious food provides the health and energy for school or work, avoids sickness and supports housing stability.

Food is the first step for many to achieving stability, and we make sure that first step is an easy one. It’s hard to move forward when you or your child are hungry. It’s primal. It’s basic. It’s life.

You can provide the gift of health, wealth and security to hundreds of people every day by making a monetary or food donation to one of your local food programs.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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