BY ROCHELLE SCHLORTT
Food is a gift. For many, gratitude for that gift is expressed in a blessing before meals. We are grateful for the gift of nourishment and strength for the active, healthy life it provides. Whether it’s a meal at home or in a restaurant, odds are most people choose the foods that support their unique tastes and nutritional needs. But what if poverty robbed you of that choice? Would you have the health and energy for school or work? Who would you turn to for help? The connection is simple: food equals health, and health equals wealth and security. Catholic Charities understands that connection and works to provide a choice of foods through the Marian House Soup Kitchen and other programs.
Poverty and hunger go hand in hand. According to Census.gov, the poverty rate in 2016 was 12.7 percent. Sounds low until you realize this amounts to roughly 43 million people—13 million of whom are children. Poverty isn’t someone else’s problem, it’s ours. It touches every county in the United States, including the wealthiest county in our state – Douglas County, where 12 percent of children qualify for free/reduced lunch. Compounding the financial constraints poverty brings is the problem of food deserts (areas without nearby supermarkets or food outlets). In Colorado Springs, only 6 percent of the population lives within a 5-minute walk to a supermarket. Without a personal vehicle or mass transit, getting groceries can be problematic. Often, families living in poverty only have access to convenience stores, and for those living on the streets, the challenges become even greater due to the lack of refrigeration.
Food is health. Without quality food, physical and emotional well-being can suffer. People in poverty worry about their ability to survive and find their next meal. Few choices mean compromising on basic health concerns. Does this have too much salt? Is this safe to eat? Getting sick or having a sick child means missing work. A domino effect begins when missed hours equals less pay. Less pay means not being able to pay rent, and missing a rent payment can lead to eviction and even homelessness.
Catholic Charities’ flagship program for hot, nutritious meals is the Marian House Soup Kitchen, in our care for 32 years. With the generosity of donors and thousands of volunteers, quality food is prepared and served daily. Dairy products, such as yogurt and milk, and fresh vegetables and foods with plenty of fiber help ensure everyone gets the nutrients their bodies need.
For those who can’t get to the Marian House for that daily meal, we distribute more than 1,200 food boxes each year to seniors as well as families and individuals. We deliver food boxes to people without transportation and to rural community partners for distribution to those living far from services. Most boxes contain enough to sustain a family of four for a week. These boxes ensure people receive the food they need to say healthy and productive.
Food is wealth and security. Virgil once said, “The greatest wealth is health,” and we see that connection every day at Catholic Charities. It’s no coincidence that 65 percent of program users say they have a chronic health issue or mental or physical disability. Access to reliable, nutritious food provides the health and energy for school or work, avoids sickness, and supports housing stability.
Without Catholic Charities and the support of our amazing volunteers and donors, thousands more would be vulnerable to starting a downward spiral of health, income, and housing. This is why Catholic Charities makes sure food is available through a variety of programs. Food is the first step for many to achieve stability, and we make sure that the first step is an easy one. It’s hard to move forward when you or your child are hungry. It’s primal. It’s basic. It’s life. You can provide the gift of health, wealth, and security to hundreds of people every day by making a monetary or food donation to the Marian House.
Rochelle Schlortt is the Chief Communications Officer with Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.