Hunger doesn’t take a holiday

cover 2 Nov 21 2013

cover 2 Nov 21 2013Catholic Charities of Broome County works with parishes, community to feed those in need

For more than 40 years, Catholic Charities of Broome County’s Thanksgiving basket program has provided those in need with free turkeys and all the fruits, vegetables and canned goods necessary to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal. This year, the number of basket recipients has risen significantly — from 2,100 in 2012 to 2,400 recipients in 2013, a record for the organization.

   Although large numbers of people were expected to sign up, Lori Accardi, executive director of Catholic Charities of Broome County, was still surprised at the number of recipients, especially those within two of the most vulnerable groups: senior citizens and working families with small children.

    “Every year our target number goes up regarding the amount of people we estimate needing Thanksgiving food baskets,” stated Accardi. “Each year, as that number increases, we see the number of people utilizing our food pantries rise as well,” said Accardi.

   Catholic Charities is also seeing a growing trend of Broome County residents who have donated to the basket program in the past now becoming recipients of the program.  

    “It’s difficult to see seniors that we know come and sign up for Thanksgiving baskets simply because they can’t make a dollar stretch any further,” stated Accardi. “These are proud people who have helped charities such as ours all their lives and now they find themselves as the ones [who] need the help. Many of these people are in their 80s and that doesn’t seem fair; at that age especially you shouldn’t have to stand in line for food.”

  Broome County has been struggling for some time to gain ground economically. Accardi wants to see that happen, but has little hope that conditions will improve.

   “Our area has had significant job loss in the past and recently another company was forced to lay off their workers,” stated Accardi. “We were once the center of technology and we had major corporations in this town. Now companies are closed, cut back or downsized. People are working fewer hours or are out of work altogether. It’s a difficult time.”

   “I was honestly shocked because we changed our process this year, which I thought would significantly affect our numbers,” explained Accardi. Catholic Charities used to hold the holiday basket signup at their previous location, which was centrally located. The organization moved into a new facility in the summer. “Our new building is a bit off the beaten path and not as easy for people to get to,” stated Accardi. “This year we also required proof of residency and identification for all members of the family, including young children. We were amazed to discover that pretty much everyone on the line had the correct information.” Any resident of Broome County may sign up for the basket program but must supply identification for each family member and proof of residency.

   Despite the increase in recipients, Accardi isn’t yet afraid of running out of birds, not after last year. In 2012, a week prior to Thanksgiving, Accardi had a shortfall of donated turkeys. A frantic call went out to local organizations, parishes and corporations, and within a short time frozen turkeys by the dozens began to appear at the Broome County office. Accardi not only had enough turkeys to fill the quota of Thanksgiving baskets, she also had enough for the Christmas quota plus a few extra.

   “We ended up with what turned out to be somewhere around 3,200 turkeys,” laughed Accardi. “We had so many turkeys we actually had to stay, ‘Stop!’ But that’s the kind of community we live in. Everyone is incredibly generous whenever there is a need.”       

   The generosity Accardi refers to is evident throughout Broome County. Each of the local Catholic parishes tells Catholic Charities ahead of time how many Thanksgiving baskets the parish feels it can provide. Once the signup is complete, Accardi and her team members assign each individual or family requesting a basket a parish pickup location that is as geographically convenient as possible. That list is given to each parish and, in turn, a postcard with a pickup date and time is sent out to the recipient. If there are any baskets left over, the parish gives them to Catholic Charities for other organizations that may be in need.

   Catholic Charities also works with companies such as Wal-Mart and Clear Channel Broadcasting on special fundraising programs to ensure there will be enough food and holiday birds to meet the ever-growing demand.

    Kathy Pfaffenbach, pantry supervisor for Catholic Charities who also coordinates the basket program, was also surprised at the large number of recipients this year. “I knew things were tough in our community, I just didn’t realize they were that tough,” she said.

   St. James Parish in Johnson City is responsible for creating and donating approximately 500 baskets to the program, the most of any parish. According to pastor Father John Donovan, that is reflective of the parish’s generosity and willingness to do whatever it can to help others. Father Donovan also believes families that place importance on giving to others will promote a generous attitude in their children for years to come.

   “The [basket program] won’t make a big difference to the kid who is lugging in the groceries his family is donating to leave at the church door,” said Father Donovan. “It doesn’t always make a difference to the people who are sorting out the cans and trying to put together the items that will make a good meal. When it does make a difference is when kids recognize people from their school or the community coming to the church to receive their basket, then they get it; then they understand the importance of the program and what it is to be a visible witness of God’s work.”

   St. James Parish has participated in the basket program for the past eight years, but as the local economy becomes more depressed, Father Donovan is concerned that traditional givers won’t understand when to stop giving and tend to their own needs.

   “I’d rather a parishioner contribute whatever they feel comfortable with instead of continually contributing to the point of becoming a recipient,” explained Father Donovan. “I have parishioners who, when they know of a need, would empty out their entire cupboard just to help, even if it means they could go hungry. Our parishioners at St. James and at all the parishes throughout Broome County will give and give until it could potentially hurt their own finances and lifestyle. I remind them if they gave, they have helped and it’s time to sit down. If they haven’t given to help others, they should stand up and get busy.”

   Pfaffenbach also believes the generosity of the people of Broome County is one of the qualities that keeps this community together, despite the difficult times.
“People are suffering; there are cuts with food stamps and people are barely able to get by, but still they help. That’s why I am proud of our Catholic faith: we dig right in and figure out how to help. We don’t just talk the talk,” stated Pfaffenbach, “We walk the walk and feed the hungry.”

For information on how you can help those in need during the holidays, contact Catholic Charities of Broome County at (607) 729-9166.

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