With the economic downturn, families are feeling the pain of loss of retirement income, job loss, and even home foreclosure. State budgets have been hit hard and shortfalls have worsened, jeopardizing programs relied on by children, the elderly and disabled.
A fall 2008 Associated Press survey of all 50 states, for example, found that significant numbers of poor children, the disabled and the elderly would lose health coverage, dental care, and name-brand prescription drugs through state budget cuts.
These reductions, along with increased need, have resulted in a growing demand for services provided by private, religious and charitable organizations, including Catholic Charities.
“Economic downturns tend to disproportionally affect the poor,” said Kevin Hickey, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Camden. “State and federal funding for social services tends to be the first to go during an economic downturn, yet it is precisely the time when the need is greatest.”
In New Jersey State Budget testimony given last month, Marlene Lao-Collins, director of Social Concerns for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, stated, “At the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008, Catholic Charities agencies began to see a 20 percent increase in the number of people seeking financial assistance, help with utilities, mortgage, rental, temporary housing, and food assistance. This rapidly rose to a 40 percent increase, putting a strain on
staff and financial resources. The need is beginning to outpace available resources and will continue to grow at a time when it is increasingly clear that large numbers of the working poor and middle class are at risk.”
Family and Community Service Centers operated in the six counties of South Jersey by Catholic Charities provide clients with assistance with fuel, utility expenses, emergency housing, clothing referrals, essential prescriptions and other essential items.
Each county within the Diocese of Camden has a Family and Community Service Center. Some of the larger centers also provide a thrift shop for clients to purchase adult, child and infant clothing at a nominal fee, and may have some household furniture, equipment and appliances for purchase also at a nominal fee.
These services are intended to provide a “safety net.” Catholic Charities’ staff also educates clients regarding other community-based services that will foster long-term independence.
“The importance of the work we do and the way we do it is that it takes families from struggling situations and gives them hope. It settles an immediate need that has disrupted the family in some way. We try to smooth out the rough bump in the road of life,” said John Desparrios, regional coordinator for Catholic Charities Family and Community Service Centers in Cumberland and Salem counties.
In addition to the Family and Community Service Centers, Catholic Charities provides thousands of families and individuals with behavior health counseling, welfare-to-work case management, migration and refugee services, job and economic development, school-based family support, pregnancy and adoption services, HIV/AIDS ministry, prison ministry, prenatal and clinical services and disaster relief.
Catholic Charities relies on funding each year through the House of Charity-Bishop’s Annual Appeal. Approximately 45 percent of Catholic Charities’ funding is derived from the appeal.
This year the appeal — whose theme is “Disciples on the Journey: Walking the Talk” — is seeking to raise $7.25 million to fund Catholic Charities and other relied on ministries and services in the diocese.
“In these challenging economic times, where people in our own diocese are struggling, we need more than ever to give evidence of our concern and care as disciples of Jesus,” said Mariann Gettings, director of the House of Charity-Bishop’s Annual Appeal. “The need is so great this year, but I know the compassion and generosity of our parishioners are greater than the economic challenges we face.”
Editor’s Note: For more information about the Appeal or to contribute, see www.camdendiocese.org.
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