Dinner is Served

Dec. 2-8, 2004
VOL 123 NO. 42
Dinner is Served
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me.” — Matt 25:35-40

Thanksgiving should be an occasion for counting one’s blessings, spending time with family and friends and sitting down to a festive table abundant with food. For some, however, the holidays are a time of uncertainty, unemployment, poverty and hunger –– not just in Third-World countries, but right here in the counties that make up the Diocese of Syracuse.

Catholic Charities agencies across the U.S. have reported an increased need for emergency services. A Catholic Charities USA survey showed a 73 percent increase in requests for rent/mortgage and utilities assistance and a 60 percent growth in requests for food. In addition, the survey indicated that 77 percent of the Catholic Charities agencies surveyed are experiencing an increase in the number of families seeking help and a 63 percent rise in the number of seniors coming to them for aid.

At Broome County Catholic Charities a week before Thanksgiving, the waiting room at the emergency services center was filled to capacity as clients waited their turn to be interviewed before receiving groceries for the week. More than 3,000 people, young and old, employed and unemployed, are served at the center each month, receiving food, diapers, formula or clothing. Kathy Pfaffenbach, director of emergency services for Broome County Catholic Charities, explained to newcomers how the center works. “You will be interviewed each week when you come in,” she said. “You’ll be given a five-day supply of food.” Each person is required to show identification and proof of address before receiving assistance.

Clarissa, age 24, and Keith, age 21, had just been laid off from Felchar’s Manufacturing Company. The company lays off about 50 percent of its work force every year at this time, explained Pfaffenbach. “This is between the fifth and the tenth family since yesterday that have been laid off from Felchar’s and have come in here,” she said. When Pfaffenbach learned that the couple had not worked at the manufacturing company long enough to receive unemployment benefits, she referred them to CHOW –– the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse run by the Council of Churches for Broome County. Qualifying individuals can receive assistance from CHOW six times per year. Unfortunately, the couple missed the deadline for applying for a Thanksgiving basket. Pfaffenbach told them to come back next week to see if extra food had been donated. She also referred them to public assistance. “It takes at least 45 days before public assistance kicks in,” said Pfaffenbach. “Therefore, they could be facing homelessness.”

While Pfaffenbach can’t promise the young couple food for Thanksgiving, there are 1,900 other families whose holiday will be a little brighter because of the generosity of Catholic Charities and the surrounding parishes. This number is up from 1,700 families served last year. The 1,900 families that have applied for a basket will be assigned to 24 participating parishes according to geographic location. Three hundred baskets will be distributed directly by Catholic Charities. “If it wasn’t for the Catholic community, it would be a very sad holiday for many,” said Pfaffenbach. “If the Catholic community closed their doors, there would be a lot of hurting people.” Pfaffenbach said that the majority of people they serve are not on public assistance, but are part of the working poor. “We see that number increasing. People who just can’t make ends meet,” she said.

Judith is another example of someone struggling to make ends meet. She is on disability because of surgery. Some months, when money is short, she will stop by Catholic Charities for food for herself and her mentally challenged son. Pfaffenbach told Judith that she missed the application deadline for receiving a Thanksgiving basket, and like the previous couple, suggested she stop back the following week to see if there is leftover food. “Like everyone else, I would like to have a Thanksgiving dinner,” said Judith.

Sister Molly Smith, DC, also works at Broome County Catholic Charities. With the help of 42 volunteers, she and Pfaffenbach strive to meet the needs of families and don’t hesitate to beg for assistance from the community. When asked if that was the word she wanted to use, Sister Molly said, “Oh, yes. We beg.” They don’t have to go to those extremes, however, when they appeal to the generosity and kindness of the surrounding parishes. St. James Parish in Johnson City will supply up to 150 Thanksgiving baskets, Our Lady of Good Council Parish in Endicott will feed up to 100 families, St. Paul’s Parish in Binghamton will make the holidays brighter for up to 200 families and St. Mary’s of the Assumption will provide food for more than 150. Sister Barajingitwa Caritas, LSOSF, a pastoral care minister at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, said the number of people who need assistance is ever increasing. “There are many immigrants in the area who don’t know the language and can’t find jobs,” said Sister Barajingitwa. “But the parishes are doing a wonderful job.” She reported that St. Mary’s food pantry serves about 140 families each month. The parish soup kitchen feeds around 50 people each day, but by the end of the month, that number exceeds 100.

The number of people Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Endicott will serve has remained steady over the past few years, reported Theresa Bendert, co-coordinator of the Thanksgiving basket program. Included in the 141 baskets they will provide are 66 baskets for families that are part of the Binghamton Psychiatric Center Home Program. Bendert said that the unemployment rate is very high in the area, due in part to a lot of people moving to Binghamton from New York City looking for a better place to live. “But they are having a hard time finding jobs,” she said. Bendert said that because they don’t have a large population of people in need in their own parish, they are able to help Catholic Charities. “If they needed more help, we would find a way to meet those needs,” she said. Bendert also said she is seeing an increased number of elderly needing food. “The elderly who are living just on social security can’t make ends meet,” she said.

In other counties of the diocese, parishes, Catholic Charities and community agencies are also working together to provide families with Thanksgiving meals. Oswego County Catholic Charities will give baskets to 100 families through their emergency services center. St. Joseph’s, St. Paul’s and St. Stephen the King Parishes support those in need by donating food and funds to the Human Concerns Center –– a food pantry started 20 years ago by the Catholic churches but which now serves all denominations in the City of Oswego. The Human Concerns Center will provide 118 baskets that will feed 530 people. Mary Ratigan, director of the center, said that the number of people requesting Thanksgiving baskets has increased to 500 from around 350 a few years ago. She said that through the generosity of people of all faiths they are able to provide for everyone in need.

Sister Stella Maris, OSF, of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Syracuse, will provide 150 households with Thanksgiving meals. The parish is able to fill all requests through the generosity of individuals and area businesses. Sister Stella said that she has even had offers from other parishes to help her fill the orders if she runs short. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception emergency service center in Syracuse has run short. While they will provide 200 families with Thanksgiving baskets, Sister Anne Marie Graham, DC, said that there are 25 people on a waiting list and more than 50 whom she will try to provide with at least a turkey. “People keep calling and we just take their names and phone numbers with no promise of providing food,” said Sister Anne Marie. “But a lot of donations will come in at the last minute. We just don’t always know how many.”

Before the Thanksgiving leftovers are eaten, parishes, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and many other agencies will gear up to provide thousands of individuals in the seven-county diocese with Christmas baskets which will include food, toys, grocery vouchers and baked goods. The parishes and agencies mentioned in this article represent only a fraction of the generosity and kindness shown by so many. While the need is great, so are the people who meet it. As Will Rogers said, “People are marvelous in their generosity if they just know the cause is there.”

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