As holidays approach, Catholic aid agencies encourage generosity

Christmas Gift Drive CNA US Catholic News 11 21 11 Donated gifts stand under a tree during a Christmas gift drive.

Officials with Catholic charities and relief agencies have asked people to remember both the needs of the poor at home and those facing humanitarian disasters overseas.

Generosity is “so central to our faith,” said Tom Price, the senior communications manager with Catholic Relief Services. “It is the reason for the existence of any Christian charity.”

He cited Pope Benedict XVI’s words in his 2005 encyclical “Deus Caritas Est.” There, the Pope said that for the Catholic Church, charity is not “a kind of welfare activity” that could be left to others. Rather, charity is “a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.”

Candy Hill, Catholic Charities USA senior vice president of social policy and government relations, also noted the importance of giving.

“Our Catholic values, teachings, and traditions are the foundation for the work we do at CCUSA. The ultimate rationale for our services is our belief in the sanctity of the human person and the dignity of human life.”

Price, whose agency is dedicated to international relief work, told CNA that the ongoing drought and famine in East Africa is an “urgent situation” and those affected in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are in need of prayers.

Hill, whose organization focuses on domestic aid, said that more than 46 million Americans live in poverty.

“At the local level, CCUSA’s 163 local agencies are seeing more and more people in need and addressing these needs innovatively,” she said on Nov. 18.

Each year, the organization serves over 10 million people regardless of their backgrounds. The charities support a “vast network” of soup kitchens, food pantries, emergency shelters, temporary and transitional housing, and permanent housing.

These help homeless families and individuals, “particularly during the holiday season when agencies face a dramatic increase in demand,” Hill said.

Last year, its member agencies served 1.9 million more individuals than they did in 2009. The agency’s quarterly survey on the needs of poor Americans will be released next week.

Price said the holiday season is “very special” for Catholic Relief Services.

“Our mission to serve those in need is year round but we do try to draw extra attention to the needs of the poor at the close of the year,” he said.

The relief agency’s Gift Catalogue allows gift givers to buy shares in CRS programs around the world, including programs like education, agriculture, clean water and health care.

“It is a way to share the joys of the season with those most in need. You are giving twice,” he commented.

The CRS staff members in Baltimore hold a Christmas gift drive through Catholic Charities to collect toys and warm clothing for underprivileged families.

“By Christmas week, the floor around our Christmas tree is filled yards out with these gifts,” Price said.

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Thanksgiving time is also when the agency relays to donors the gratitude from those it serves around the world.

Hill gave thanks to the over 260,000 employees, volunteers and donors who assist Catholic Charities agencies each year.

“These individuals are the backbone of the Catholic Charities network and we are grateful for their support, whether it is through monetary donations, in-kind, or in-person at any of our agencies across the country.”

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