Catholic Charities-Diocese of Tyler will participate in the second annual East Texas Giving Day Tuesday, April 25.

The Giving Day, sponsored by East Texas Communities Foundation, is an 18-hour period of giving that provides critical funding for local non-profits. According to the Giving Day website, the effort last year raised $479,000 for non-profits in the 32 counties served by East Texas Communities Foundation.

Though the official Giving Day is April 25, 6 a.m.-midnight, donors can “pre-give,” or schedule a donation, through the website.

The day is “an awareness opportunity for non-profits across East Texas, a chance for them to get their message across,” said Kathy Harry, Catholic Charities executive director. “If donors are interested, they simply need to visit the East Texas Giving Day website or the Catholic Charities-Diocese of Tyler website, which is”

This is the first year Catholic Charities has participated. Donations to the agency will help fund its programs benefitting the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized in East Texas.

“We’re really focused on helping parishes throughout the Diocese of Tyler” in their efforts to feed the hungry in East Texas, Harry said. “We now have over 30 parishes participating. Catholic Charities is providing some financial assistance, as well as mentorship for those that would like to start a food pantry and walking them through that process, or just some simple ideas for hunger relief efforts within their own particular parishes.”

Catholic churches are often the first stop for individuals or families seeking assistance with food, and the characteristically small and rural parishes in East Texas are no exception.

“Many of our priests will tell you that people knock on their doors at all times, day and night, needing assistance with feeding their families,” Harry said. “We’re trying to give them some concrete ways and ideas that they can accomplish that. We’d love for every parish to be able to participate as they’re able and to have the funds to continue to sustain it.”

Many of the parishes in the sprawling and largely rural Diocese of Tyler are small, with limited resources. Yet, with help from Catholic Charities, and the $500 grants the agency provides, even they are finding ways to serve the needy in their areas.

“A $500 grant will go a long way in a small community,” Harry said. “They may not be able to start a food pantry, but they may have a volunteer who could go to the local grocery store and buy staple goods. We’d encourage the pastor or church office to bag those goods and have them available for those who come to the door. They have food there, ready to distribute. Or they might provide some sort of coupon for a local restaurant or eatery at least to provide the person a meal or two to tide them over. So even in the very small parishes, we think we can make an impact to provide hunger relief as much as they’re able.

“Several of our churches are involved in a community-wide hunger relief effort, a food pantry for their county or their immediate area. And the way this typically works is that the churches that participate commit either a certain amount of manpower or financial resources to help sustain the pantry. And the Catholic Charities assistance helps relieve some of that responsibility from the parish so they can then fulfill their commitment to the community endeavor. And that’s another wonderful way to achieve multiple aspects of our giving and our need to reach out to the community.”

Catholic Charities partners with the East Texas Food Bank in Tyler. Through Catholic Charities, parishes, or the food pantries or soup kitchens to which they contribute, can set up accounts at the food bank to purchase food in bulk at a discounted price for distribution back in their communities. Every dollar spent at the Food Bank for pantry assistance provides eight nutritious meals to individuals and families.

Catholic Charities grants also have helped parishes purchase refrigeration units and other equipment, and the agency stands ready to provide whatever technical or educational assistance parishes might require.

“We even have volunteers from one food pantry, at St. Charles Borromeo in Frankston, who are willing to go to other parishes for mentoring,” Harry said. “Theirs is a relatively new pantry, but it’s really taken off. They’ve offered to go to other parishes and walk them through the process.”

The need for hunger relief is as real, and as urgent, in East Texas as it is as it is throughout the rest of the nation, and the world. Statistics from the East Texas Food Bank state that:

  • 1 in 4– East Texas children are food insecure;
  • 1 in 5– East Texas adults are food insecure;
  • 473,000– East Texans are “at-risk of hunger,” according to the American Communities Survey.

Additionally, the food bank’s 2014 study, Hunger in America, found that among East Texans surveyed:

  • 75 percent made a choice between paying for food and paying for utilities;
  • 72 percent made a choice between paying for food and paying for transportation;
  • 76 percent made a choice between paying food and paying for health care.

“My sense is that most people are not aware of the need on a daily basis,” said Harry. “Often, we think of hunger relief at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and of providing a meal for people then. A lot of efforts are made during those holidays. But the reality is that hunger exists 365 days a year, and that’s the message that we need to communicate. There is a severe need for hunger relief throughout East Texas. And that also leads to other medical needs if people are going without food, clothing, and shelter, and other basic care needs.”

Driven by Catholic social teaching, Catholic Charities seeks to fulfill Christ’s command to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and welcome the immigrant (Matthew 25:35-40).

“In its simplest form, the Catholic Church is here to serve the poor,” Harry said. “Pope Francis reiterates that day in and day out. Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Tyler simply echoes that. We’re here to serve the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, those who are in greatest need in our region. We serve all people, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, just sharing our resources to be able to help those in greatest need.”

Catholic Charities-Diocese of Tyler serves the Body of Christ in East Texas in a number of ways. The agency offers immigration services through low-cost legal assistance and has on staff caseworkers trained and certified by the Department of Justice and Homeland Security. A local law firm, Flowers and Davis works with Catholic Charities and provides its services at minimal cost.

As an extension of its immigration services, the agency is currently offering a GED program, and hopes to expand into citizenship and computer literacy classes.

It also has launched a parish nursing program, placing registered nurses with specialized training in parishes to provide faith-based medical outreach, particularly to people with limited access to health care. The pilot program was established in Sacred Heart Parish in Texarkana, and is scheduled for expansion into the Tyler area in July.

The agency also is launching a program directed at the very smallest of “the least of these,” called Infant Safe Sleep, through which it will provide “baby boxes” crafted by the Baby Box Company to new mothers who do not have a crib, cradle, or bassinette for their infants.

“The tendency is to place that infant in bed with (parents) or with siblings,” Harry said, “and we know that can often be a precursor to SIDS. And there is a high infant morality rate in NE Texas, so we’re hoping to be able to distribute these to all OB providers through hospitals and physicians to all mothers who would like one, at no cost to them.”

And, of course, for the ministry born in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, disaster preparedness and relief remains an ongoing effort.

The reality is that hunger exists 365 days a year, and that’s the message that we need to communicate.

Yet hunger relief remains a primary focus for Catholic Charities-Diocese of Tyler. And to Harry, who is of Lebanese descent, that emphasis on food is inherently Catholic.

“I think there’s just a very real connection with mind, body, and soul,” she said. “I think that’s pretty much the basis of all that we are as a faith community, as the Catholic community.” In the central act of the Catholic faith, “we gather around the altar, the Eucharistic table, to be nourished by Christ’s body. We know that in order to nourish the mind and nourish the soul, we have to nourish the body. I think those three things are just interwoven and tie together beautifully. That’s the heritage of our church. Think about the Last Supper. Christ sat with the Apostles and they broke bread together. There are so many ways that we see Christ demonstrate God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit through food. It’s all throughout Scripture, and I think that’s mirrored in our culture today in the ways that we go about caring for one another.

“I think, for me, when you think about hunger relief and feeding others, it’s very typical of the culture of the Catholic Church and of the ethnic cultures in our Church. There’s clearly something about the importance of feeding one another, and it certainly ties back to the table of the Eucharist. That is how Christ reached out to all of us, by offering himself as food.

“You have to nourish the body so that we can nourish the soul,” Harry said. “It’s as vital as the air we breathe.”