Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A seat at the (dinner) table: fighting food insecurity at Catholic Charities

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Thousands of our neighbors—including thousands of children—go to bed hungry every single night.  According to the Capital Area Food Bank, nearly one in six of our neighbors in the District doesn’t have enough food to eat.  In short, thousands of mothers, fathers and caregivers can’t afford to buy enough food to feed their families.

Over the past two weekends, generous volunteers from our parishes and schools collected canned foods through Share in Hope, an archdiocesan food drive designed to benefit the Capital Area Food Bank, the Southern Maryland Food Bank and the dozens of community-based food pantries operated by Catholic parishes and Catholic Charities programs. 

“Hunger is becoming an increasingly salient issue in our community,” said Teresa Volante, senior program manager for Parish Partners. Parish Partners coordinates the Share in Hope drive each year.  “Simply remembering to purchase a little extra healthy food when you do your own shopping at the grocery store is a quick and easy way to help those who are in need.”

According to this article from the Washington Post, nearly ten percent of people in the Washington region are food insecure.

That’s far too many. Aside from The Share in Hope Food Drive, here are other ways Catholic Charities recently has been helping hungry families:

On March 15 food distributor Goya marked its 75th anniversary by pledging more than a million pounds of food to organizations in more than 12 cities around the country.  Locally, Goya distributed 75,000 pounds of food to local area pantries through its Goya Gives campaign at the Capital Area Food Bank last week.  Food pantries at our Montgomery County Family Center and Spanish Catholic Center accepted 1,000 pounds of Goya rice, beans and hot sauce.  And all that yummy food packing the shelves goes a long way toward feeding local families seeking help through Catholic Charities.

Brenda DiCarlo, the Program Manager at our Southern Maryland Food Bank, is also familiar with the difficulties many families face when looking for a healthy meal.

“It’s up to providers in Southern Maryland to step up and meet the growing demand for affordable, healthy food,” Brenda said.  In response, she’s coordinated the 3rd Annual Southern Maryland Hunger Conference, bringing together dozens of providers of free or low-cost food as a way to share resources and strategies as more and more families come to pantries, food kitchens and shelters looking for a meal.

Last year, the Southern Maryland Food Bank distributed 655,199 pounds of food to 25 local pantries, group homes, soup kitchens and shelters across Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties in Maryland.  That’s a 72 percent increase from the previous year! More than 35,000 people received emergency food thanks to the support of Brenda and the Food Bank.   The Food Bank always needs volunteers and extra canned foods.  Learn how you can contribute.

Our SHARE Food Network distributes a whopping 130,000 food packages each year across the region, saving customers of all backgrounds $3 million on their grocery bill.  SHARE’s innovative system guarantees reduced food costs for buyers by making monthly bulk purchases from food wholesalers and depending on volunteers to help keep overhead very low.   The more buyers there are, the more volunteers can help package and distribute food.  And that means affordable food for everyone.  If you haven’t been to a SHARE Food distribution day (they happen every third week of the month), you really need to see this incredible effort in motion – great volunteer opportunity!

And remember, food is something we all need year-round, not just during holidays or Lent, so donate a can today, or give one of our programs a call to see how you can help!

Pictured above: Volunteers at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Derwood, Md., load up donations during last weekend's Share in Hope collection.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Our Spanish Catholic Center Gala brings in a record $720,000!

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We are really, really, really excited to report that on Saturday night, the annual Spanish Catholic Center Gala raised a record $720,000! It was a smashing evening, to say the least, as Gala Chair Franco Nuschese (CEO of Georgetown Media and owner of the famous Café Milano in Georgetown) pulled out all of the stops to support the Spanish Catholic Center. The Gala was hosted by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington.

All proceeds from the evening go directly to the programs serving low-income Latinos and immigrants who have come to our community seeking a better future. The Spanish Catholic Center, a program of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, worked with more than 42,000 people last year.

The black-tie event (so fancy!) was held at the Organization of American States, located across from the White House Ellipse. The evening of dinner and dancing was highlighted by a first-time live auction for three dream vacation trips to Italy, organized by Nuschese. With a professional auctioneer leading the way, the auction raised $120,000 on the spot to support the medical and dental clinics, job training programs, emergency food assistance and many other services offered by the Spanish Catholic Center.

“I consider it an honor to have been chosen to head the gala, which is involved in so many important programs to help the Latino and other communities,” said Nuschese. “These are services that make life better for those who come to America seeking a brighter future for their families and themselves.”

The staff at the Spanish Catholic Center provide holistic care in a way that is culturally competent. Our staff come from countries around the world, and many of them are bilingual. So they understand that often clients face not one or two needs, but many as they strive to overcome poverty.

Cardinal Wuerl presented awards to three honorees: Michele Burke Bowe, Daniel Flores, who accepted on behalf of all clients served by the Center and Dr. William Battle, who accepted on behalf of the Archdiocesan Health Care Network.

As Daniel Flores accepted the award, it was a particularly touching moment as he had once received assistance through the Spanish Catholic Center. Today, he has a career working in the nonprofit sector and is a donor back to the Spanish Catholic Center – evidence of what is possible with opportunity. He accepted the award on behalf of all clients served by the Center, in recognition of their courage and the inspiration they provide to others.

Michele Burke Bowe has been a long-time volunteer, leader and supporter of the Spanish Catholic Center and Catholic Charities. The Archdiocesan Health Care Network, also a Catholic Charities program, is a network of 200 doctors and specialists who provide their care to low-income patients at no cost.

Learn more about the Spanish Catholic Center.

More media coverage in the Georgetown Dish.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Jane Strom: Celebrating a career of love and dedication at Catholic Charities

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Jane (second from left) with her Refugee Center team.
I can think of no one who deserves to be featured on The Open Door more than Jane Strom, who, as of Friday evening, is the happily retired Senior Program Manager of Catholic Charities' Refugee Center.  We’ll remember Jane for quite some time as a tireless defender of the needs and rights of refugees as they resettle in our region. Her career is marked as one that touched thousands of lives and helped us all enrich our own understanding of culture and community. 

At her retirement party with colleagues, it was fitting that one of those clients who Jane and her team had helped was on hand to say thank you.  

Edmond, a refugee from Northern Africa, was very thankful indeed for the English courses and job training the Refugee Center helped him with when he first arrived three years ago. He now works nights at the Home Depot, and during the day he continues to study English at Carlos Rosario International Charter School. A talented artist and sculptor, Edmond studied art and design back home. He created a very special gift to present to Jane to mark her retirement.

"Embrace."
Named "Embrace," the swooping and curvaceous sculpture was carved from abandoned pieces of wood.  One end is the head of a woman, and curling around her back is the delicate frame of a child, holding on as the mother leads him to safety. He remarked that finding a new use for the discarded wood felt very similar to being a refugee – and to his experience with the Refugee Center.

Edmond apologized for his not-so-broken English more than once, but lauded Jane and the Refugee Center for "their patient and helpful staff.  I want to thank them so much for their time and their love," he said.

The Refugee Center benefits from volunteers from countries across the globe, including Burma, China, Colombia, Haiti, France, England, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Liberia, Cameron, Palestine, Iraq, Vietnam and Rwanda.  The program has become a crossroads for many cultures and peoples, all working together to help our neighbors who have come to begin anew.  The program offers employment placement, Job Club and ESOL (English as Other Language) services that are all culturally sensitive to refugees’ needs.

"The Refugee Center is a welcome haven where refugees are empowered by people of faith and good will that enable them to rebuild their shattered lives, reunite with their families and regain their God-given dignity," Jane said, quoting the Center's mission statement in her own remarks.

"Jane's only motive is to ensure the well-being of her clients and to best serve all those who come to our doors.  Her passion and joy are infectious.  And in that way she helps us all find passion within ourselves and encourages us to make a difference," said Ed Orzechowski, Catholic Charities President and CEO.

Thanks to a phenomenal staff and great volunteers, the Refugee Center boasts a 100 percent satisfaction rate among clients, who most often thank the staff simply for their friendship. All thanks to Jane's passion and joy in her work.

"I say, not Good-bye, but until we meet again," Jane said, smiling, at the end of her speech last Friday. "God bless you all."

Until we meet again, Jane. 

Happy retirement!

Learn more about the services we offer refugees and asylees at Catholic Charities’ Refugee Center.