By Christie L. Chicoine

CS&T Staff Writer

The country is at an economic crossroads. The prices of gasoline and groceries continue to climb, foreclosures are on the rise and people across all class levels are watching closely every dollar they deposit in a bank or pull out of a wallet.

Across the Archdiocese, in both the city and suburbs, Catholics and non-Catholics are turning for help to the resources provided by the Church. Archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS) stocks local emergency food cupboards and Catholic Social Services (CSS) staffs family service centers. Both have seen an upsurge in requests for help during these economically volatile times. At each, people in need – increasingly, those who once would have been categorized as middle class – are guaranteed that their God-given dignity will be maintained as they receive help.

“Catholic Human Services understands that poverty and need are not defined by a neighborhood or zip code,” said Joseph J. Sweeney Jr., Secretary for Catholic Human Services, under which NDS and CSS operate. “In these challenging times, we are reminded that the Church has been and continues to be a beacon of hope and help for all those in need.”

Because so many are struggling, NDS is seeing an increase in the use of the emergency food cupboards and a slight decrease in donations to those same cupboards, according to Anne Ayella, assistant director of NDS.

“During these difficult times where we’re seeing a definite increase in the cost of food – especially basic foods like milk, cheese and the like – as well as in the cost of fuel, it’s really hurting everyone, middle-class people, working families,” Ayella said.

For those who are able to donate but don’t know what or how to give, Ayella suggests gifts of money to NDS, which will be put toward the purchase of food for the emergency cupboards.

Those who wish to donate food directly should call NDS to find the cupboard closest to them or, for those without transportation, arrangements may be made for a neighborhood pickup by an NDS driver.

In addition to milk and cheese, breakfast cereals, peanut butter and jelly, tuna fish and cans of soup are always in demand at the food cupboards, according to Ayella.

She anticipates an increase in applications this fall for free or reduced-price meals in the Archdiocese’s elementary school lunch program.

September is typically a financially trying time for those in need, Ayella said, because back-to-school expenses can strain family budgets. The country’s current economic crisis only compounds those financial stresses, she added.

Food, followed by rent and mortgage assistance and clothing for infants and children have been the most requested services of those who have come for help to family service centers this past year, said Lorraine M. Knight, director of administrative and specialized services at CSS.

“If they can manage to eke out their rent or mortgage, they’re taking it from their food budgets,” Knight said.

The family service centers are located in every county of the Archdiocese. They help assess families’ needs and suggest which programs – including public health insurance programs – families may apply to for assistance.

For those who are financially strapped, family service centers make referrals to agencies that can help with budgeting needs or that help consumers dig out of debt. For example, although not affiliated with the Archdiocese, a consumer credit counseling service is on site at the Northeast Philadelphia Family Service Center.

Those who are looking for a job or a career change will also find help at the centers.

Those with housing problems can also turn to the centers for guidance. For people who are stretched beyond their means, that “may not necessarily mean keeping the current roof you have – you may have to find a more affordable roof,” Knight said.

If that is the case, CSS counselors can help clients scour the market for more affordable housing.

“Many people come to the family service centers knowing they’re going to be assisted in where to turn,” Knight said. “They’re going to know that even if the answer is ‘no’ or ‘that’s going to take a little while,’ they’re going to be treated as respected human beings. They’re going to be given their God-given dignity. And for some people, that goes further than a check – that someone looked them in the eye and said, ‘We’re going to do the best we can for you, and we’re going to do it along with you.'”

And never underestimate the far-reaching effects of the simple act of sharing.

“Sharing food with somebody who’s hungry is so much more than just giving them a canned good – it is giving them hope that somebody out there who doesn’t even know them cares about their situation,” Ayella said.

“The Church’s message is we all have to reach out and do what we can to help other people,” she added. “We need to be mindful of people in the human family who may be struggling. Hopefully, they’ll do the same if we’re ever in that situation.”

For more information, contact the Community Food Program of Nutritional Development Services at (215) 895-3470. For a listing of family service centers and senior community centers, call Catholic Social Services at (215) 587-3900. Visit the web site or

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or