January is Poverty Awareness Month

January 14, 2014

HOUSTON — Since the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has been very clear in his message that, as Catholics, the poor must not be forgotten. As individuals and as a Church, Catholics should be active in reaching out to those in need.

January is the perfect time to reflect upon the Pope’s message — it is Poverty Awareness Month, an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It is a time to remember and pray for those less fortunate and, if possible, take action to help. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 46 million Americans are living in poverty today, including more than five million (17.9 percent) in Texas. Plus, 25 percent of children under the age of six in this state do not have enough food to remain healthy.

For the past 33 years, Dr. Stephen Klineberg, professor of sociology and co-director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, has been conducting the Kinder Institute Houston Area Survey. 

Klineberg said, “Houston looks like a thriving city, with unemployment numbers that are well below the national average, but poverty is increasing.” In the 2013 Kinder Institute Houston Area Survey, almost one out of four Harris County residents who had children living at home said they had difficulty buying the groceries to feed their family. 

Houston has one of the best medical complexes in the world, but it also has the highest percentage of children without health insurance of any major city in America.

“In the new global, high-tech, knowledge economy, education matters now more than ever before in determining the life chances of individuals and poverty is strongly associated with the ability to access a quality education,” Klineberg continued. “If Houston’s young people, 70 percent of whom are African American and Hispanic, are unprepared to succeed in today’s economy, it is hard to envision a prosperous future for the region as a whole.”

Across the Archdiocese, there are year-round efforts to help the poor. 

The Office of Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese organizes and implements efforts to promote social justice. Led by Deacon Sam Dunning, the office is active in many areas, including public policy, community concerns and justice and peace efforts locally, nationally and globally.

Many parishes have programs, such as food pantries, clothes banks and other social service initiatives. Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza and leaders from Catholic ministries and parishes frequently lobby local and national governments for changes that will protect and help the poor.

This month, three ministries of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Catholic Charities, San José Clinic and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are promoting Poverty Awareness Month with a variety of educational tools and resources, including a daily calendar with simple suggestions for each day. 

The activities will only take a couple of minutes and include things like saying a prayer, reflecting on a quote or visiting a web site. 

The ministries also coordinated a Poverty Awareness Month Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart that was celebrated on Saturday, Jan. 11. Their efforts have been made possible through generous underwriting support from The Kristie Lee Tautenhahn Foundation.

“Poverty is an issue that impacts so many that all three of our organizations serve,” said Paule Anne Lewis, president and chief executive officer of San José Clinic. “We hope that our community will come together to help raise awareness about poverty in our city, state, nation and beyond.”

Cynthia Colbert, president of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said it is fitting that the year will begin with remembering those in need in our Archdiocese, in the country and the world. “Poverty can crush the spirit; it can create such a sense of hopelessness that many in poverty feel like they are running in place and getting nowhere.

“The antidote to that is for all of us to follow Jesus, Pope Francis and our Cardinal — by doing something to help. It means stepping out of our comfort zone to volunteer at a food pantry or a clinic, to visit an elderly person, to mentor a child, to speak with our legislators about public policies that work against families and our faith. Awareness of poverty is the beginning. Doing something about it is necessary in responding to Jesus call to live as a good samaritan. Each one of us can do something,” Colbert said.

“The families we serve all have one thing in common... they have tough choices to make with limited resources,” she continued. “For many working at or near minimum wage, or on a fixed income, it is very difficult to make ends meet even on a good month.” 

Society of St. Vincent de Paul Executive Director Ann Schorno said, “Almost 50 percent of Texans are liquid asset poor and do not have sufficient liquid assets to subsist for three months in the absence of income. Loss of a job, reduction in hours worked, illness or unexpected expense are where the tough choices are made.”

Klineberg summed up his thoughts by saying, “In his very last sermon on the day before he was killed, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, ‘We must use America’s vast resources to end poverty, and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life.’ The Catholic Church’s Poverty Awareness Month and its continued advocacy for the poor are tremendously important in helping to move us in that direction.”

There are many ways people can help and this month is an opportunity better educate the community. 

If you are looking for opportunities to serve, just contact your parish or look on the websites for San José Clinic (www.sanjoseclinic.org), the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (www.svdphouston.org) or Catholic Charities (www.catholiccharities.org). 

All three ministries have a great need for volunteers.

To learn more about Poverty Awareness Month and poverty in the U.S., visit the Catholic Campaign for Human Development’s Poverty USA website at www.povertyusa.org.