Seeking to create awareness about poverty in the United States and to stand in solidarity with Pope Francis’ commitment to the poor, Catholic Charities USA has launched a new national campaign. Donna Markham, a Dominican sister, discussed the effort on Sept. 10 in her first address as president and chief executive officer of the organization during its national convention in Omaha. The campaign, called #End45—Raise a Hand to End Poverty in America, reflects the 45 million people in the United States who live in poverty. “That’s scandalous,” said Sister Donna, the organization’s first female president.
The campaign is appearing online nationwide on member websites, Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts, with videos of people who have been helped by Catholic Charities. In addition, people are encouraged to show support by taking a picture of their hand with “End45” written on their palm and post it to their social media channels using the hashtag “End45.“
“We are asking our country to work with us to end 45,” said Sister Donna.
John Griffith, executive director of Catholic Charities of Omaha, said the local agency has long partnered with other organizations locally and nationally. The new campaign can help increase awareness about their efforts and allow them to help more people, he said.
Looking ahead to the Year of Mercy that begins in December, Sister Donna said, “We’re ready to stand with [Pope Francis] as missionaries of mercy across this country and beyond.”
At a news conference at the National Press Club on Sept. 17, less than one week before the pope was scheduled to arrive in the United States, Sister Donna said Pope Francis “serves as a powerful catalyst” for the change American society needs in its regard and treatment of the poor and vulnerable. Her remarks came one day after the Census Bureau issued its annual assessment of U.S. poverty. The new numbers are not only disheartening; they could mean Catholic Charities will have to recast its “#End45” branding.
The number of poor people in the U.S. in 2014, according to the Census Bureau, was 46.7 million, up from the previous year’s figure of 45 million, which Catholic Charities used for its anti-poverty campaign. The 2014 number includes 15.5 million children. The Census Bureau said the size of the increase is not statistically significant.
Catholic Charities served nine million individual Americans last year through its 177 affiliates in the United States and its territories. As to how the other 36 million or more might have been helped, Sister Donna said, they may have been served by other agencies, but she suggested many merely fall through the cracks, unaware that help is available to them.
Sister Donna said she expected Pope Francis’ address before a joint meeting of Congress on Sept. 24 to be “disturbing to everybody” sitting in the gallery, regardless of political party. “I have no idea what that man’s going to say. It’s going to be honest,” she added, noting, “I’m sure he’s going to make everybody a little uncomfortable.”
It is possible that from that sense of discomfort policy solutions may arise to give the poor a genuine boost, Sister Donna said.
In the meantime, Sister Donna indicated that some corporate leaders had approached Catholic Charities about what they could do. Part of the solution lies in getting people through the day-to-day; she said 54 percent of Catholic Charities clients who visit for the first time do so because they are hungry.
But the second part of the equation is to give them a start that will allow them to shake off their poverty. Sister Donna cited the food and horticultural sectors of the economy as two that have a continual call for trained workers.