By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published February 4, 2021
ATLANTA—About 40 people gathered virtually for a town hall on hunger and justice the evening of Jan. 26. The event was sponsored by Justice and Peace Ministries of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Guest speakers for the event included Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., and Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission, mobilization and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services (CRS). CRS is the official international humanitarian and development agency of the U.S. Catholic Bishops.
“Global hunger is an overwhelming problem,” said O’Keefe. “In the last three years, hunger has increased around the world.”
About 690 million people around the world are going hungry, according to Action Against Hunger. The organization reports from 2018-2019, the number of undernourished people grew by 10 million, and there are 60 million more people going hungry now compared to 2014.
Poverty, locust swarms, flooding, drought and conflict are some of the issues that affect a community’s access to food, said O’Keefe. The coronavirus pandemic has brought lockdowns, movement restrictions, disruptions to supply chains and soaring food prices in some areas, making it difficult for families, he said.
Feeding America reports about 50 million people in the U.S. are experiencing hunger due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a 60% increase in the number of people seeking help from food banks.
COVID-19 has demonstrated what the Holy Father refers to as “Our Common Home,” said Archbishop Hartmayer.
The archbishop emphasized that we are related to each other and share the world as well as the consequences of what we do in the world.
Present in more than 100 countries, CRS is doing everything it can with our partners around the world to respond to the risks and impacts, said O’Keefe.
“There are concrete solutions to address some of these most pressing issues,” he said.
So far, CRS has helped more than 10 million people across 46 countries with COVID-19 programming, explained O’Keefe.
The organization is helping people to build assets and ability to take care of their family to improve agriculture, grow more, eat better food and to set themselves up to participate in the middle classes of their countries, he said.
Last year, the organization worked to pass a federal bill called the Global Child Thrive Act to provide assistance to orphans and vulnerable children in developing countries. The annual CRS Rice Bowl fundraiser during Lent helps families throughout the world, with about 25% of donations staying in the respective dioceses. Virtual resources throughout Lent are available online.
Since 1975, the Lenten Rice Bowl has brought Catholics together “to assist the poor and vulnerable around the world,” said O’Keefe. “Each Lent, we strive to bring awareness to the issue of global hunger, connect communities in the United States to it and with communities around the world who experience hunger and malnutrition.”
In preparing for the 2021 season of Lent and the Rice Bowl, “we are challenged once again to open our eyes and to truly see the plight of the poor and the suffering in our world today,” said Archbishop Hartmayer. “In them, we encounter Jesus Christ.”
For more information on Catholic Relief Services and the CRS Rice Bowl, visit crs.org.