BALTIMORE — Amid a global food crisis - made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic - Catholic Relief Services launched a new campaign aimed at engaging Catholic communities across the United States to support efforts that address global hunger.
"Lead the Way on Hunger," kicked off May 14 and is a multiyear effort that calls on supporters to take action through fundraising, advocacy and public awareness-raising activities, including via social media.
"The shadow pandemic of worsening hunger is playing out in some of the world's most vulnerable countries," said Sean Callahan, CRS' president and CEO. "Now is the time for us to lead the way forward to ensure that these communities have the support they need to make it through this crisis and beyond."
As a result of widespread restrictions on movement, disruptions to supply chains, and soaring food prices, the pandemic is making it even more difficult for already vulnerable families to access basic necessities. According to the World Food Program, the coronavirus pandemic could increase the number of people suffering from acute hunger by 130 million people. What's more, it's estimated that currently, the number of children facing a lifetime of developmental challenges caused by malnutrition exceeds 149 million - more than twice the number of all children in the United States.
"If we don't provide adequate food to children now, it will impact them for the rest of their lives," Callahan said. "The welfare of the next generation hangs in the balance."
On May 14, Pope Francis invited religions across
the world to unite in prayer and fasting for the end
of the pandemic. During the event, he talked about the secondary impacts of COVID-19. "In the first four months of this year, 3.7 million people died of hunger.
There is the pandemic of hunger," the pope said. As part of the "Lead the Way on Hunger"
campaign, CRS is calling on Catholics and others in the U.S. to write to members of their Congressional delegations to advocate for specific bills that help improve food security in poor and vulnerable communities overseas. That includes asking for an additional $12 billion in foreign assistance funding in the next emergency COVID-19 bill. In addition, CRS is urging supporters to spread the word about the campaign through social media and use of the hashtag #LeadNow.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which governs CRS, called on Catholics to join in prayer May 24 at noon in recognition of the "Lead the Way on Hunger" campaign. During a virtual campaign press event, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a member of CRS' board of directors, spoke in support of this effort.
"At this critical time, CRS' 'Lead the Way on Hunger' campaign is an important expression of our Church's steadfast commitment to global solidarity, to working for the common good, and to the upholding of human dignity," he said. "Our brothers and sisters around the globe are counting on us. We believe that each life, no matter how vulnerable, is precious."
Beyond CRS' hunger campaign, the organization is building a growing network of CRS chapters across the country. With other partnering Catholic high schools, universities, parishes and dioceses, CRS chapters are also engaging in advocacy and fundraising activities on global poverty issues.
In reference to the growing movement, Callahan said, "We believe that engaging in these kinds of activities are ways for all Americans to stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters overseas during the COVID-19 global pandemic and beyond."
A Catholic Relief Services Chapter is being established in the Diocese of Buffalo to advance the lifesaving mission to end global poverty and suffering through meaningful action.
The goal of CRS Chapters is to equip and empower
volunteers to become champions for the mission
of global solidarity, champions for the families and communities that CRS serves, and to lead the way to a more just and peaceful world, inspired by the Gospel call. Members encourage elected officials and the media to highlight and support this lifesaving work, and mobilize the essential resources to aid in these efforts. New nationwide chapters will be composed of students, families, individuals and others.
CRS Chapters have two major elements -
advocacy and chapter giving. Chapters will engage
in advocacy by developing relationships with their members of Congress, visiting their members' offices, writing letters to the editor and op-eds to raise the profile of pivotal issues like forced migration and malnutrition. Chapters will also seize the opportunity to put their faith into action through giving activities that will make a significant impact on peoples' lives. It is key that while working to effect systemic change we also address the immediate needs of those around the world.
The Buffalo Diocese has already gathered about 12 leaders and is still inviting others to the initial Chapter Launch on June 23. These leaders are lay and clergy, from urban suburban and rural parishes, and bring a broad variety of experiences in working for justice and charity.
After the launch, participants will be trained and attend monthly informational meetings and organize actions on behalf of the issue of hunger.