November 8, 2019

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Problems of hunger and homelessness remind us to invest in others

David Bethuram

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, on Nov. 16-24, is an annual program where people come together across the country to draw attention to the problems of hunger and homelessness. I’d like to share a real story of a woman that illustrates how hunger and homelessness impact people’s lives. It’s also a story of how, with caring help along the way, she was able to realize her life’s goals.

Maggie spent most of her childhood battling hunger, food insecurity, poverty and sometimes homelessness. She spent many days hungry, scared and not knowing where her next meal would come from, or where she might be living on a particular day.

When she was young, she didn’t understand what was happening to her family, but she knew that it wasn’t how people were supposed to live.

At times, she felt like the world had forgotten about her, her family and their problems, but then they would meet someone who treated them with respect, like the workers at a soup kitchen where they would get two meals a day when they were homeless, or the food pantry that would give them groceries when there were more days in the month than there was money in their pockets.

The kindness that was shown to her and her family in the food pantries, meal programs and homeless shelters cannot be overstated.

When someone would give her a snack and ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up, they were not just nourishing her mind, but her spirit. Maggie says, “They gave me a sense of being normal for a few moments, and most importantly, helped me to believe that there was a future for me where I got to grow up and have the luxury to think about what I wanted to accomplish with my life.”

That spirit guided her as she dealt with hunger and homelessness. After all, hunger limits you in a way that is difficult to describe because you are constantly thinking about getting food, keeping food and not knowing when you are going to eat next.

It’s a vicious cycle. You want something better, but you don’t know how to get it.

Food and housing are so fundamental to the human condition that not having those things paralyzes you, and keeps you living hour by hour instead of thinking about what you would like to accomplish in a day, week, month or year.

Maggie said that hunger, poverty and homelessness stole her childhood. “It took away my innocence and my sense of security, but I was one of the lucky ones. I not only survived but learned to thrive.”

She said she had many failures along the way but in the end, found success with the help of many people who came into her life. “I have accomplished my childhood dream of being a lawyer, but there are so many millions of people who continue to struggle like my family struggled.”

Maggie is one of hundreds of thousands of people who has worked hard and had the support of her family, especially her wonderful grandmother. But without charity and the social safety net, she would not have been able to achieve her dreams. She needed school lunches, welfare, health benefits, food stamps, Section 8 Housing, subsidized applications for college, financial aid and student loans.

Now she is giving back to the community, and helping others in need so they, too, have a future.

No one makes it alone. Everyone has help in some way.

The Church and Catholic Charities will continue to invest in people in a way that allows them to live in dignity and can achieve their goals for a better life.

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

Local site Links: