Food initiative is focus of Public Policy Weekend Feb. 13-14 - Catholic Courier
In 2017, volunteer Pankaj Patel boxes up meats at the Food Bank of the Southern Tier to be shipped to food pantries. (Courier file photo)

In 2017, volunteer Pankaj Patel boxes up meats at the Food Bank of the Southern Tier to be shipped to food pantries. (Courier file photo)

Food initiative is focus of Public Policy Weekend Feb. 13-14

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first story in a series on the Nourish New York initiative.

Extension of a state initiative supporting food producers and residents facing food insecurity is the focus of Public Policy Advocacy Weekend in the Diocese of Rochester.

Catholics will take part in the annual initiative set for Feb. 13-14 at parishes across the diocese. They are being urged by the Diocesan Public Policy Committee to support the continuation of Nourish New York, a state program that connects food banks with farmers, the fishing community and food manufacturers who have suffered economically from the coronavirus pandemic. In turn, individuals and families in communities across the state — many of whom are experiencing food insecurity for the first time due to loss of employment fueled by COVID-19 — have had greater access to high-quality food at food pantries and cupboards in the Rochester Diocese and beyond. According to information provided by the public-policy committee, a total of 4,152 farms statewide have provided more than 17 million pounds of food to residents in need.

Nourish New York has provided $35 million in funding since its inception this past May 1. The initiative ended on Dec. 31, 2020 — but with economic difficulties related to the pandemic carrying over into 2021, the public-policy committee is asking state leaders to provide an additional $50 million to extend Nourish New York into the 2021-22 fiscal year beginning April 1. Parishioners can advocate for the extension by signing petitions online or filling out postcards and forms available on parish websites, in bulletins and in churches.

On Jan. 17, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the inclusion of a $25 million extension for Nourish New York in his 2021 State of the State agenda. Marcus Ebenhoe, a public-policy committee member, said the announcement is “a step in the right direction” but that the proposed amount is only half of what the committee is seeking. Also noting that the state budget is not yet set in stone, Ebenhoe — who serves as Catholic Family Center’s director of advocacy and parish social ministry — said that the public-policy committee will maintain its push for $50 million in Nourish New York funding despite Cuomo’s Jan. 17 announcement.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has tested us in many ways. We have been limited in our ability to gather to celebrate our faith together, limited in our ability to travel freely, isolated in times of illness and weakness, and challenged by changes to our everyday life. It would seem to go without saying that in the past year of pandemic, which is continuing into the New Year 2021, the opportunity to be fed with readily available and healthy food should not be among those privations,” wrote Bishop Salvatore R. Matano in a letter to the faithful imploring them to take part in Public Policy Advocacy Weekend.

Along with its focus on Nourish New York, the public-policy committee is continuing its 2020 advocacy priority that decries physician-assisted suicide. As its Public Policy Weekend initiative last February, the committee collected nearly 9,000 signatures from across the diocese urging opposition to physician-assisted suicide, but submission of the petition to state leaders was put on hold due to the pandemic. The petition was instead due to be sent this month.

The public-policy committee also is addressing two new educational priorities in 2021: prisoner justice reform, along with human dignity and the common good related to health care.

The committee is asking parishioners to study and advocate for passage of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act that seeks to create more humane and effective alternatives for inmates in state prisons facing solitary confinement. In regard to health care, the committee noted that the COVID pandemic has served as a reminder of the many residents in this state and nationwide who need better access to affordable, quality health care.

According to a new public-policy committee brochure, the committee also is continuing to address important justice issues, including opposition to abortion expansion in New York; creation of education tax credits; care for God’s creation; federal immigration reform; child-care subsidies for low-income working families; access to mental health care; focusing on the opioid/addiction crisis; creating energy efficiency and critical capital projects in religious and independent schools; and war and peace concerns.

In addition, Bishop Matano suggested for the faithful to visit the New York State Catholic Conference’s Catholic Action Network, where “you will learn immediately when items of general interest and concern for the Catholic Church in New York State might benefit from your support,” he wrote in his letter to the faithful.

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