Parish and Local Community Groups: Outreach and Charity
The ecological problem is intimately connected to justice for the poor … The option for the poor embedded in the Gospel and the Church’s teaching makes us aware that the poor suffer most directly from environmental decline and have the least access to relief from their suffering. Renewing the Earth, United States Catholic Bishops (1992)
Outreach and charitable projects can provide opportunities to focus on the “justice” dimension of “environmental justice.” Too often, the most vulnerable people in our society are also most often victims of society’s failures. Particularly in the case of environmental health hazards, the poor, the sick, and the unborn are often severely affected.
Across the country, parishes, schools, and other Catholic organizations are finding innovative ways to connect concern for the environment with concern for the poor and vulnerable. They’re improving the physical condition of poor neighborhoods, providing health education, establishing gardening projects for low-income communities, and, in many other ways, addressing environmental threats to those most in need.
Hope Takes Root
Parishes in two impoverished Detroit neighborhoods developed a project that connected residents to their environment and to the land. They sponsored the cleanup and greening of fifty abandoned lots. They also involved fifty households in a community gardening project. Parishes held training and follow-up sessions focusing on Catholic social teaching.
Jobs for the Environment
Parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle, along with the Archdiocesan Communications Office and the Coalition for a Livable Washington, worked together to publicize the Jobs for the Environment. The program was a highly successful effort to create environmentally sound jobs in distressed communities that have been torn apart by conflicts between those who want to protect the ancient Pacific Northwest forests and those who want to protect the quality of life in communities that depend on the timber industry. The program’s latest initiative was a video that tells the story of Jobs for the Environment. The video is designed to be used as an educational tool in parishes and with other groups.
The Brownfield Initiative
Focolare, a Catholic ecclesial organization in the Diocese of Indianapolis, developed a project in response to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s brownfield program. The EPA offered grants to encourage businesses to develop contaminated commercial and industrial sites, or “brownfields.” In most cases, these sites are in low-income urban communities. The Brownfield Initiative consisted of four community meetings to educate, encourage, and enabled low-income residents to be informed participants in any efforts to develop “brownfield” sites in their communities.
Plant a Row for Neighbors
Parishes in the Diocese of Portland, Maine, used parish lands and encouraged parishioners to use their yards to grow fresh produce that was donated to local soup kitchens. Each parish in the diocese received an educational kit including seeds and ideas for their use. The project was spearheaded by the diocesan Office of Social Justice and Peace. It was designed to help parishioners deepen their understanding of Catholic teaching on the environment and stewardship of the land, as well as on charity and feeding the hungry.
The Bishop Dwenger High School in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, IN educated Catholic students about the link between poverty and environmental problems in Appalachia within the context of Catholic social teaching on the environment. In addition to repairing housing for the elderly, the students became familiar with the environmental problems faced by the local Catholic parish in this coal area.
The Greater Richmond Interfaith Program in the Diocese of Oakland, CA aimed to create a model of church-based community gardens in five Catholic parishes. It aided low-income parishioners and residents by providing a nutritious source of home grown food, entrepreneurship, and community building.