Even before the COVID-19 pandemic had created so many hardships in the world, Catholic leaders in several developing countries had raised a red flag over their concerns about another serious problem threatening the lives of the poor — extreme hunger and malnutrition.
The appearance of COVID-19 has done nothing to improve the situation, of course. It has only intensified the food crisis. Guatemala has been particularly hard hit.
As one of Central America’s most populous countries, Guatemala has long suffered from some of the worst rates of chronic malnutrition in the region, and the statistics for children are particularly grim. Nearly two-thirds of Guatemala’s children live in extreme poverty. Impoverished parents, especially those in rural areas, lack the means to provide healthy, nutritious meals for their children. As a result, nearly 50% of children born in Guatemala will suffer from malnutrition.
Fortunately, local Catholic leaders have not been daunted by this formidable challenge and have been working hard to find solutions. If they receive support from Catholics in the U.S., they believe much can be done to provide better food sources in Guatemala, vastly reducing the cases of serious malnutrition.
Why is help from U.S. Catholics so critical? Because their financial support is needed to ship food and extend its distribution in poor communities.
“While the Catholic ministries in Guatemala are well positioned to help the poor and their staff members make many sacrifices to serve those families, they are usually operating with a very limited budget and need our help, especially with the shipment of food,” explained Jim Cavnar, president of Cross Catholic Outreach.
As an official Catholic ministry known for its support of Church-run missions in developing countries, one of Cross Catholic Outreach’s key missions is to educate U.S. Catholics about the ways they can support the Church’s work overseas by funding specific projects and contributing to programs that deliver food to areas in need.
“One of our most successful outreaches secures large donations of food in the U.S. and ships those commodities to Catholic missions in Guatemala and elsewhere,” Cavnar said. “It’s an incredibly effective program.
“For example, when a U.S. donor contributes $200 to that effort, it allows us to deliver more than 1,300 meals to the poor. That’s an incredible impact, and you can imagine how eager the Catholic missions in places like Guatemala are to get that help. It effectively supercharges their feeding ministries. And for the poor parent struggling to feed her child, it is also an answer to prayer.”
Cavnar added that feeding families isn’t simply an act of mercy to end hunger pain, because malnutrition is more than a simple hardship or physical inconvenience. Extreme malnutrition can do serious physiological harm, producing lasting physical and mental damage — even death in some cases.
“As Americans, it’s hard for us to imagine a child suffering from stunted growth or permanent mental damage for lack of food, but that can and does happen in developing countries because the poverty is that extreme,” he said.
“But the good news is that Catholic missions are aware of these hardships and ready to respond. Most have schools or other centers where food distributions can take place. They simply need regular supplies of nutritious food to distribute. That’s where Cross Catholic Outreach and its donors come in. We are experts in procuring and shipping food, and when our donors help us cover the cost of transportation, we can get incredible things done.”
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Generous Catholics can even become monthly donors to support this kind of outreach regularly. Their consistent giving helps ensure missions get dependable food shipments and families can rely on having food for their children.
“As a ministry, we are always striving to make poor families self-sufficient, but there are always times — particularly after a natural disaster or bad harvest — when help with food is necessary,” Cavnar said. “At times like those, a parent often lives in fear, not knowing where their next meal will come from. The dependability of our food outreaches is critical then. Beyond ensuring people are spared the risks of malnutrition, the reliability of our food shipments gives mothers and fathers peace of mind. God’s love is confirmed and hope is restored.”
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