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Archive of November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day shopping called 'assault' on family life

Denver, Colo., Nov 22, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The expansion of Thanksgiving weekend shopping to the holiday itself has raised concerns among both workers and clergy who worry that the change puts family time at risk.

Father Sinclair Oubre, Spiritual Moderator of the Texas-based Catholic Labor Network, said the store openings are a “disturbing trend” that is “an assault on the family.”

“We have almost completed the evolutionary process of having two classes of workers: those who get holidays off, and can stay with their families, and those who are forced to work, so that those who have holidays off won't have to stay with their families,” Fr. Oubre said.

Retailers such as Sears, Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, Toys “R” Us and Gap are increasingly opening their stores on Thanksgiving Day. The following day, known as Black Friday, is one of the most profitable shopping days of the year.

Business analysts cite increased competition from internet shopping and some customers’ desires to shop on Thanksgiving as motives to open stores on what is traditionally a day off, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In 2011, retailers who opened on Thanksgiving Day earned 22 percent more over the Thanksgiving Day weekend.

Two popular internet petitions on the Change.org website are protesting the changes.

Casey St. Clair, a Target employee of six years from Corona, Calif., organized one petition to “save Thanksgiving” that now has over 370,000 signatures.

She said Thanksgiving Day off “really does give me that one day to relax and visit family I otherwise have no time to see.”

Introducing more business hours on the evening of Thanksgiving Day means that employees need to arrive hours before the store opens, she explained.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York criticized the new phenomenon of Thanksgiving Day shopping in a Nov. 20 essay in the New York Post.

“The stores, we hear, will open on Thanksgiving. Isn’t that a sign of progress and liberation?” he asked. “Sorry, but no — it’s a sign of a further descent into a highly privatized, impersonal, keep-people-at-a-distance culture, one that values having stuff and doing things over just being with people whom we love, cherish and appreciate.”

The cardinal said he will pray this Thanksgiving that God preserve “a culture where personal friendship, genuine conversation and family unity can be a high priority.”

“I’ll beg God to keep those values constant in our society,” he said. “Why? Because I’m fearful they’re disappearing.”

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Priest takes food stamp challenge in solidarity with poor

Washington D.C., Nov 22, 2012 (CNA) - The head of Catholic Charities in D.C. recently experienced the struggle of low-income families relying on food stamps, noting that Christian charity lends vital support to those in need.

“Most of us don’t have a real sense of what it’s like to be on food stamps,” said Fr. John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

From Oct. 9 – Oct. 15, Fr. Enzler participated in D.C. Hunger Solutions’ Food Stamp Challenge, pledging to spend only $30 on food for one week, the average amount allotted to recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

He told CNA that the experience allowed him to stand in solidarity with those in need, while also increasing his awareness of the challenges that face families and individuals who are trying to survive on food stamps.

Throughout the week, he experienced the struggle to be well-fed and healthy on such a small budget. In particular, he said, it was “really difficult” to eat nutritious food.

For Fr. Enzler, a typical dinner often consists of a small piece of chicken or fish with some vegetables. But he discovered that this is “almost impossible” on about four dollars per day.

Maintaining a healthy diet is “what made it really hard for me,” he said.

And while he could have cut costs by eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or more canned food, it struck him that the situation would be much less manageable over a longer period of time.

“This is just one week for me,” he said, while food stamp recipients must deal with these choices all year long.

The other big challenge for Fr. Enzler came over the weekend, when he was invited out to eat with some friends.

While he tried to limit his spending, it still pushed him over his allotted budget, and he ended up spending about $37 by the end of the week.

Many people don’t realize that food stamp recipients often can’t go out to eat, he observed. In most states, food stamps cannot be used at restaurants, and even cheap restaurants are difficult to manage on such a tight budget.

While eating out is a common way to relax after a long day or enjoy time with friends, a single outing could easily cost nearly half of your weekly food budget, he noted.

“You can’t go to restaurants,” he said.” You can’t have a beer. You can’t go out with your friends.”

Fr. Enzler said that the food stamp challenge helped him to “get a sense of what it’s like” for those who struggle to stay well-nourished in the U.S.

He created a video blog of his experience, which he shared with his staff to help them understand some of the challenges facing the people they are working with on a regular basis.

There is a need for greater awareness of these struggles, Fr. Enzler said, explaining that while some people may be tempted to complain that federal aid recipients are getting free food, the experience of relying upon such a limited budget is very difficult.

And while some of the individuals receiving food stamps can supplement that aid with other money, many cannot, he said. Although people know that food stamps exist as a safety net for those who need it, many do not realize how tough it is to live on them.

Nonprofit organizations like Catholic Charities help to “fill that gap” between what the government provides and other existing needs or temporary challenges, Fr. Enzler explained.

Through its many initiatives in the Washington, D.C. area, Catholic Charities helps feed tens of thousands of people each year.

A recent two-year government contract allows Catholic Charities' Food Service Program to serve healthy meals to up to 800 elderly Washington, D.C. residents every day. The SHARE food network offers fresh, nutritious food packages at a discounted price, while the Montgomery County Family Center offers nutrition and cooking classes.

It is good to realize that there are those in need in our own backyard, said Fr. Enzler, observing that hunger is often thought of as a problem facing those in Africa or some other far off country.

“People don't understand that people in our nation are hungry,” he said.

There are many ways that the faithful can help to ease the hunger of those around them, Fr. Enzler noted. Christians have the opportunity to speak up in their parishes and communities, volunteer in soup kitchens or organize local food drives.

“Jesus said clearly, ‘Feed the hungry,’” he said. “This is our chance.”

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