The past 12 months have seen a seemingly unprecedented number of natural disasters, including the Dec. 26, 2005, earthquake and tsunamis that ravaged Southeast Asia; the Aug. 29 hurricane that devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast region; and the Oct. 8 earthquake that hit Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.
Diocesan Catholics have responded with extraordinary generosity to these crises, donating, for example, more than $500,000 to Catholic Charities USA for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
Yet there remain many needy people right in our own communities, which is why the Catholic Courier and diocesan Catholic Charities are teaming up for the 36th time for the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal.
Proceeds from the appeal are distributed to the emergency funds of various Catholic Charities offices and other affiliated agencies within the Diocese of Rochester. These agencies use the funds to help individuals and families in short-term financial crises meet basic needs that cannot be funded through other sources.
Despite media reports of “donor fatigue” this year, donations to various relief efforts do not “change the situation for folks here at home, and we hope the Catholic community will keep that in mind,” said Karen Franz, the newspaper’s general manager/editor.
“The needs locally haven’t lessened. We still have significant needs here,” agreed Marv Mich, director of social policy and research at Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, one of the agencies that receives and distributes Christmas Appeal funds.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, for example, Rochester has the 11th-highest per-capita rate of child poverty in the country, noted Mich, who annually convenes a committee that distributes Christmas Appeal proceeds and those of the Lenten fundraiser Operation Rice Bowl to urban parishes and ministries in Rochester. There are people in need in other areas of the diocese as well, and representatives from each region are responsible for allocating Christmas Appeal funds within their own regions, he said.
Realizing that many potential donors already have strained their budgets to assist in disaster relief, organizers have set a goal of $50,000 for this year’s appeal, said Donna Stubbings, appeal coordinator and circulation manager for the Courier. But, she noted, donors aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch.
“This year we are trying to stress the fact that the high cost of heating homes may affect many families with limited income,” Stubbings said.
Last year, 777 donors contributed to the appeal, Stubbings said. The donations ranged in size from $1 to $2,500, but the average donation size was about $57, she added.
Even small donations of $5 or $10 are very valuable given the kinds of needs served by this appeal, Franz noted.
In 2003, for example, $28 in Christmas Appeal funds bought enough gasoline for the father of two small children to drive to his new job in a neighboring county. That same year, a family whose house burned down received $75 to purchase clothing and infant supplies and a low-income single mother received $20 for a child-care registration fee.
“A few dollars here and there, particularly in these types of situations, can actually help people become self-supporting,” Franz said.
In other years, Christmas Appeal funds have been used to purchase school supplies and book bags for children from low-income families and to purchase a medication that kept a pregnant woman from having a miscarriage.
Franz pointed out that virtually 100 percent of Christmas Appeal donations go directly to needy people in the community, because the Courier staff performs the campaign’s administrative and promotional work as a community service.
Prior donors received Christmas Appeal mailings a few days after Thanksgiving, Stubbings said. Each weekly edition of the Courier between Dec. 3 and Jan. 8 will contain a coupon for donors to use when contributing as well as a feature article about an agency, ministry, family or individual that has been involved with the Christmas Appeal. In addition, the Samaritan Centers in Ithaca and Elmira — which receive funds from the Christmas Appeal — are featured on page B5 of this edition.