NEW BEDFORD — Two weeks into the 80th Catholic Appeal of the Fall River Diocese the annual campaign has raised $1.5 million of its $4 million goal as of press time.
Each year, donations to the annual Appeal meet the physical, emotional, and Spiritual needs of tens of thousands of individuals and families in our diocese. The largest beneficiary of funding through the Appeal is Catholic Social Services (CSS). CSS serves and ministers to nearly 50,000 individuals across the Diocese of Fall River each year, working with persons of all faiths and cultures in the Spirit of God’s universal love to advance human dignity and promote social justice, truth, and solidarity in our community.
Last year, the need for the programs and services CSS provides reached an all-time high. The issue of food insecurity, in particular, took center stage. One of the largest food pantries in Massachusetts, the Solanus Casey Food Pantry, is a program of CSS. Located at 238 Bonney Street in New Bedford, the Food Pantry experienced a more than 150 percent increase in use in 2020, serving nearly 20,000 households representing more than 52,000 individuals. This included a significant increase in the number of elderly and disabled individuals turning to the Food Pantry.
In an interview with the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation in March, Catholic Social Services CEO Susan Mazzarella said, “Thanks to the contributions of donors, we have been able to distribute 505,663 pounds of food to the hungry in New Bedford and beyond. That’s a retail value of almost a half million dollars.”
While individuals and families turned to the Food Pantry for assistance in larger numbers than ever before last year, staff and volunteers also needed to shift operations completely outdoors to ensure safe distribution. Bags of food organized by type — including breakfast foods, produce, and meats — are arranged to allow for socially distanced and organized pickup every Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. “All through the winter, all through the summer, in the rain, snow, we are working outside — having people come through a line in our driveway so they can have food throughout the month,” said program manager Matthew Dansereau. The need stretches beyond the neighborhoods nearby the Food Pantry. “We’re getting people from as far away as Taunton,” Dansereau said.
The community’s needs were ever-evolving in 2020. When everyday household items became scarce, the Solanus Casey Food Pantry was there to help meet newfound demands last spring. According to Dansereau, “Across the street from us was Pope Francis Place, and one of the things they did was give out diapers. When the pandemic started and they closed, I began buying diapers from the (Greater Boston) Food Bank during the second month of the pandemic, because families were coming in every week and asking if we had them. We are at a point where we easily give out 2,500 diapers a week, along now with wipes, and sometimes baby food: something new we started that is definitely going to continue as we get ‘back to normal.’”
This year you can watch a series of “Ministry Moments” videos featuring individuals reflecting on good works supported by gifts to the Catholic Appeal. The series, which includes the Solanus Casey Food Pantry, can be found on the Catholic Foundation’s website: www.catholicfoundationsema.org/ministry-moments.
The Appeal website also includes a summary of how philanthropic dollars raised through the Appeal have been distributed across the various ministries it supports, and a video message from Bishop da Cunha in English, Portuguese, and Spanish. Please visit the website for more Appeal news and highlights in the weeks ahead.
Contributions to the Catholic Appeal, which runs through June 30, may be made either through a one-time donation or through monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual pledges. Donations may be mailed to the Catholic Foundation Office, 450 Highland Avenue, Fall River, Mass., 02720, made online at www.givefrdiocese.org/2021, or dropped off at any parish in the diocese. Please contact the Catholic Foundation Office at 508-675-1311 with any questions.