by Cecilia Montgomery-Eder (’24) | March 29, 2021
According to the Los Angeles Times, after losing 2.6 million jobs at the start of the pandemic, California’s economy has only recovered one million of them. This leaves a sizable deficit for those struggling to find work a year into the crisis. Additionally, California’s current unemployment rate of 9% runs well above the national average of 6.2%.
Most of the job losses occurred in the leisure, hospitality, and service industries whose workers already struggle to make ends meet due to lower wages and few, if any, benefits. Nearly half a million of the unemployed reside in the San Francisco Bay Area. Though workers received some financial help after Congress passed a COVID-19 relief measure in late December and again earlier this month, due to the high cost of living in the Bay Area, it does not make up for nearly a year of lost wages. The vaccine rollout is finally starting to ramp up, but due to strict prioritization rules, many will not be eligible to receive it until summer. The progress we are making inspires hope. Nonetheless, now more than ever we need to help those in need survive the months ahead as California’s economy recovers.
Fortunately, there are several respected, non-profit organizations that are helping people get back on their feet. As the result of a service initiative sponsored by my parish, Saint Simon, I was able to volunteer with Catholic Charities to distribute food boxes supplied by Second Harvest Food Bank, to those in need. It was simple and fun; all I had to do was sign up as a volunteer, show up by 8:30 a.m. every other Saturday, and be flexible about working wherever I was needed. I was relieved to see all the precautions taken to keep volunteers safe: requiring masks, wearing gloves, using Purell, separating volunteers who handle food boxes from those who load cars, and requiring guests to stay inside their cars.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, during the time that I was volunteering, the Bay Area’s unemployment rolls were adding a million new filers per week. That made sense to me because the demand for the food boxes grew every week as well. Initially, we loaded 500 boxes and had to turn away 30 families after we ran out. By late Fall, we were distributing 700 boxes. I chose to volunteer at St. Athanasius in Mountain View, but there are five other Catholic churches distributing food boxes across the South Bay as well. Though it is sad to see how great the need is, volunteering is a great way to make a helpful impact. More information about the Catholic Charities program and how to volunteer is available at: https://app.betterimpact.com/PublicOrganization/3e51b324-519f-4b9a-8e2e-0ea1fd4bfd26/1 .
The challenges of staying safe during Covid, attending virtual school, being unable to play sports, and having few opportunities to be with friends, have definitely taken some joy out of life. After volunteering with Catholic Charities, I learned that some within our community face all of that and the added burden of coping with serious financial challenges. California is one of the world’s top producers of beef, dairy, fruit, vegetable, and nut products. In a state bursting with agricultural riches and a thriving tech industry, it seems a crime that anyone should go hungry. Volunteering to distribute food with Catholic Charities allowed me to help others while our country faces multiple crises at once. When I had a conflict and could not attend for a few weekends, I realized how much I missed helping out. The old cliché really is true: “When you help others, you get back as much as you give.”
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