Written by Mary McCusker
Through this annual charitable event, Catholic Charities and other local food pantries will be able to fill their shelves once again, especially after donations stagnate during the months following the holidays.
The campaign is held for multiple purposes, according to Matthew Davis, director of the Office of Life and Justice Ministries, who is leading the initiative.
“We hope to raise awareness about people locally who struggle with food insecurity, and we hope to join together as a church family to collect as much food as possible for those affected by this hardship,” he explained. “The FaithFULL food drive is also a concrete and practical way for us to be faithful to the Gospel’s call of solidarity and concern for the least of those among us. This is a joyful occasion where we do good and have fun while doing it,” he added.
“Food insecurity” refers to the USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. It also includes having limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.
Currently, in Camden County alone, there are 17,200 food-insecure children, 24% of whom are ineligible for federal nutrition programs. Overall in Camden County, the total food-insecure population is more than 60,000 individuals.
The statistics for food insecurity in South Jersey’s other counties are equally sobering. Gloucester County is home to 8,180 food-insecure children in a total food-insecure population of 26,860 individuals. Suffering the impact of rural hunger are more than 8,000 food insecure individuals in the less populated farmlands of Salem County — most of whom living more than 10 miles from the nearest grocery store.
“Many households still need to make trade-offs between food and other important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills,” explained Cristina Chillem, program director at Catholic Charities. “Many households are still just one paycheck away from financial crisis.”
So when people come to one of the eight offices of Catholic Charities throughout the diocese seeking food, they often leave with much more.
According to Chillem, “In addition to bags of food staples, these clients are also able to learn about and access additional services right there on the spot, like financial coaching, housing counseling, employment assistance and more.
That’s the beauty of being a multi-service agency; we are able to help pantry clients sort out the issues that lead them to food insecurity,” she said.
She added that Catholic Charities is also able to provide educational programs which teach clients how to shop healthy on a budget and assist them in applying for SNAP benefits, crediting the support from the Walmart Foundation and the Salem Health and Wellness Foundation.
To learn more about the FaithFULL Food Drive, including the items that are being collected, drop-off locations and times, and more, visit: www.camdendiocese.org/faithfull/