When we visit the supermarket, our attention is directed to the displays and packaging and all the choices we have. We read the labels, compare prices, and put items in our cart. The countless people who worked in the fields and factories to produce the food we eat never cross our minds. Our lives depend on their labor, yet we give scant consideration of who they are, the fairness of their wages, or the safety of their working conditions. In our industrialized consumer culture, we just look at the shiny product, not the worker, forgetting we are one Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).
There are approximately 2.5 to 3 million agricultural workers in the United States, serving as the backbone for the $1.1 trillion agricultural industry.
The majority (75%) of agricultural workers are foreign-born. 19% identify as migratory and 81% are seasonal. 68% of crop workers are male and 32% are female.
The average level of completed education is 8th grade.
Agricultural workers are among the most socially and economically disadvantaged people in the country: one third of agricultural worker families have income levels below the national poverty guidelines. Farm workers report an average hourly wage of $10.60.
Agriculture can be a hazardous occupation. Workers face an increased risk of lung diseases, repetitive-motion injuries, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure.
And what about our food that comes from abroad and the people who work there . . . ?
Information from The National Center for Farmworker Health, the U.S. Department of Labor, and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
“Most urban shoppers would tell you that food is produced on farms. But most of them do not know what farms, or what kinds of farms, or where the farms are, or what knowledge or skills are involved in farming. They apparently have little doubt that farms will continue to produce, but they do not know how or over what obstacles. For them, then, food is pretty much an abstract idea—something they do not know or imagine—until it appears on the grocery shelf or on the table. . . . In the advertisements of the food industry . . . food wears as much makeup as the actors. If one gained one’s whole knowledge of food from these advertisements (as some presumably do), one would not know that the various edibles were ever living creatures, or that they all come from the soil, or that they were produced by work.”
The following article is reposted with permission from La Vista Ecological Learning Center:
Nature’s fashion turns to berries in August. Sumac fruits ripen to crimson. Wild black cherries ripen, starting out red before turning black-purple. Grey dogwoods’ bluish-white berries mellow through October. Wild grapes and elderberries’ purple coloring attract wildlife as they mature.
Year after year, these bushes and trees wear the same colors, and we never tire of seeing them. Repetition in nature is not boring! In fact, there is something wonderful about knowing what to expect as each season rolls around.
Human fashion, however, does not follow nature’s lead. Each season brings “fast fashion” a term referring to cheaply produced and priced garments, most likely made in developing countries by workers (sometimes even children) at poor wages and pitiful working conditions. They copy “high fashion” styles and distribute them quickly through stores to maximize on current trends.
The next time you are tempted to purchase this kind of clothing, consider these facts:
The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, only wreaking less environmental havoc than the fossil fuel industry.
The fashion industry produces 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions–more than all international flights and maritime shipping.
From the World Resources Institute we learn that “One garbage truck of clothes is burned or sent to landfills every second!”
The average consumer bought 60% more clothes in 2014 than in 2000 but kept each garment for half as long.
What can we do?
For a simpler, more sustainable life, imitate nature and enjoy wearing the same clothes as last season. Repeat year after year until they are worn out; then, recycle or re-purpose them.
When you do make a clothing purchase, choose natural fabrics such as cotton, wool and silk over synthetics like polyester. Pay for long-lasting clothing.
Exchange old clothing with friends or family.
Give to Good Will Industries and other organizations.
Share this information.
SOURCE: La Vista Ecological Learning Center A ministry of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate lavistaelc.org
Additional Reflection from the Catholic Climate Covenant:
“On your clothing is the life-blood of the innocent…” (Jeremiah 2:34)
“Thus says the LORD: For three crimes of Israel, and now four—I will not take it back—Because they hand over the just for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals” (Amos 2:6)
The Old Testament context chiding our treatment of the poor and innocent for our clothes is at its core a chiding of how we are complicit in abuses to those who make our clothes. When we buy an inexpensive outfit, it may come at great cost to another living person created in the image of God and to God’s creation.
Think about how many pieces of clothing you have bought in the last 6 months. How much money did you spend? Where did you get it from? Where and how was it manufactured? How much clothing did you send to the landfill? Are there ways for you to be more conscious of your consumer habits when it comes to clothing? Does our clothing have the life-blood of the innocent? Does creation suffer due to our clothing choices and habits?
Buildings crumble and arguments fall apart if they lack the necessary support beneath them. Human societies also need to rest on something — something that is solid but flexible, dynamic yet enduring. That something is the family.
Families are the foundation of society because they create people, not just in the biological sense, but in terms of forming the whole person. And this applies not only to children, but adults, too, since we never stop growing. The family is the school of charity where we learn our identity and mission, both of which are found in God, and both of which are defined by one word: love.
Members of a family protect, care, and provide for each other. An essential part of our ministry at the Joseph House is to support each of these functions of family life. For the single mother who wants to protect her children from the chaos of the streets, we pay past-due rent bills to forestall an eviction. For the elderly couple in failing health, we pay for medications so one spouse can care for the other. For the man who is looking for a job so he can provide for his wife and children, we pay for ID cards and work uniforms.
Our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, grew up in a loving and supportive family, and like many people she considered it the fundamental blessing in her life. With her keen memory she loved to tell stories of when she was young:
My mother always wore an apron and would take the apron off before my father came home. She would make sure her hair was combed and everything was neat. And she would have his bedroom slippers out for him sitting beside the rocking chair where he could lean down to put them on, and the newspaper was on the table beside it for him when he came in.
You know it’s very nice to learn to be respectful like that as a child.
My father was a very non-threatening person…. When we were sick in bed, at night in the evening after work he would come home and bring our supper upstairs to us, and after we were finished with our supper he would sit under the gas lamp in the hallway on 23rd Street in Baltimore and he would read to us.
On Saturdays, that was pay day, he would give my mother the money for the house and then we would all stand around and he would give to us according to our age. He would give us a little spending money. He was a good daddy. He certainly was. He always provided well for us, did kind things, we could always depend on him.
With my father, it didn’t make any difference who needed to have a home, if we had an empty place it was alright with him. We never heard him say anything about these things at all. My mother would make the arrangements…. My father would just figure out what he should do and what he shouldn’t do and what was the right thing to do.
Sister absorbed the lessons of her upbringing and went on to start the Joseph House. Could her parents ever have imagined how their simple acts of love would bear fruit?
Never underestimate the seeds you plant today in your own family.
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This has been a very busy week at the Joseph House Crisis Center. More than 50 families came seeking financial assistance, many in regards to housing.
When housing needs are on the line, we can’t delay in responding – especially when the weather is cold.
A house does more than provide protection from the elements, however. It’s where family life takes root, where each member finds the stability to grow and prosper.
Studies show that stable housing leads to better parenting, better grades and less absenteeism at school, and less health problems. Stable housing creates better outcomes across the board.
When families are evicted, so much is lost.
Miranda is one person that the Joseph House was able to assist recently. Each person’s story is unique, yet there are similarities. If there’s a lesson we can draw from our experience it’s that life doesn’t always go as planned. Anyone, at anytime, might need the help of others.
Miranda had cancer surgery several weeks ago. It was successful, but unfortunately she lost her job because she wasn’t able to work during her recovery. Miranda has a ten-year-old son. She is looking for a new job, but the bills come in fast. An eviction notice soon landed at the top of the pile.
Miranda came to the Joseph House, where a volunteer spoke with her and verified her need. We sent money to the landlord, buying time for Miranda to get back on her feet. As always, we responded quickly, directly, with no red tape.
Our concern for those in need makes us aware of our blessings. It also calls us to action. The Joseph House depends entirely on the private support of people who wish to show their care and compassion for others.
According to the Census Bureau, 43.1 million people in the United States live in poverty. Of these, about 19.5 million live in deep poverty, which means their household income is less than 50% of the poverty threshold.
Furthermore, 105 million people live close to being in poverty. Their household incomes are above the poverty threshold, but they experience various degrees of insecurity in acquiring food, housing, utilities, and other necessities.
Poverty is something that affects a lot of people. What can we do to help?
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development offers two suggestions that anyone can do at anytime. They are good starting points:
Choose your words wisely. Using derogatory terms and/or making generalizations about people who are living in poverty works against people who are trying to get back on their feet. Instead, talk with people who are struggling and listen to their stories.
Show respect. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. Be respectful of people’s occupation and considerate of all types of workers we encounter every day.
Here’s an example to consider: when we sit down to eat, it is likely that many people at the lower end of the economic ladder were involved in providing our food, from the fields to the store.
Let our words and behavior show the respect that is due to all persons. From this foundation, an open heart leads to an open hand – a hand of welcome, a hand to help someone up.
The following was written by Bishop Kenneth Edward Untener (1937-2004), who served as the bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw:
Helping the poor is not always a pleasant experience.
It’s no picnic helping the poor. There is often no feeling of fulfillment. It’s work — like a lot of virtue is work — like taking care of an elderly parent is work.
The poor, as fate would have it, are just like us. They are mixtures of virtues and vices. Like us, they are not always grateful. Like us, they don’t always trust. Like us, they don’t always respond. Like us, they are both generous and greedy. Like us, they are sometimes wonderful and sometimes awful. Whatever happened to the noble poor? Some are out there, but mostly they are in Charles Dickens.
The “poor” poor are not always so noble, and they are the hardest to deal with — which is probably why we don’t.
Mental note: When you help the poor, you always receive more than you give — but it may not seem that way at the time.
In light of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, people are rising to the challenge of helping their neighbors. They are giving what they can: food, water, money, boats, shelter. It is not the time to hold back.
Opportunities to give happen every day, not just during natural disasters. What are the characteristics of people who give? Here is a list for reflection and for taking a personal inventory. It comes from the book, 5001 Simple Things to Do For Others (and Yourself), from Liguori Publications, 2010. Would you add or change anything?
Character Traits of Givers
Support an appreciation for people
Reinforce their commitment daily
Keep their compassion
Place their concern where it will do the most good
Are always considerate
Understand that consistency wins the game
Find contentment in what they can accomplish
Fortify their courage
Keep creativity flowing
Are known for their dependability
Show they are always diligent
Exercise discernment and discretion
Know that efficiency allows you to accomplish more
Understand that equality keeps the balance
Are always fair
Know that winners are friendly
Realize that generosity with time and resources will make them rich
Are known for their gentleness
Express their gratitude
Are humble before God
Know the worth of their integrity
Indulge in love
Are loyal to their values
Understand we are all meek on the inside
Believe God is merciful—we just try to follow His example
Observe what is truth
Keep their optimism
Are known for their punctuality
Promote their purpose
Are always resourceful
Respect those around them and those who seek their help
Know we are all responsible for humankind
Don’t let their sincerity overrule logic
Are submissive before God
Believe thriftiness will pay off
Know the world is in need of tolerance
Always promote the truth
Understand that we can’t live on virtue alone, but we can’t live without it
In an online world, there is still a place for personal contact.
Our help at the Joseph House is given person to person, in the flesh. This way we get a grasp of the details that cannot be conveyed in an e-mail, details that help to express the uniqueness of each person and the many sides to his or her circumstances.
Person to person, we see the missing teeth and the shoes held together with duct tape. We see the mismatched clothes that came from the donation bin. We see arthritic hands and swollen ankles and feeble legs that need the assistance of a cane. We see calloused skin rough as sandpaper from years of hard work in the sun. We hear words slurred in a haze of alcohol. We hear broken English and uncouth grammar and slang. We hear wisdom and sobbing, whispering and yelling.
Person to person, we see faces, and the windows of the soul, the eyes: blood-shot eyes, eyes filled with tears, eyes flaring in anger, nervous eyes that flit about, eyes clear and bright, and eyes that refuse to make contact with our own. Up close, we also detect the smell of unwashed skin that comes from living outside in beastly hot weather, the sharp mustiness that clothes pick up from decaying houses, and the acrid odor that comes from looking in garbage cans for food.
Most importantly, person to person, we experience the person, and not just the eviction notice or the overdue electric bill or the other bits of fallout from poverty. We can reach out and touch someone, and not just figuratively. Simple human contact shoulders many a burden.
The greatest poverty is to feel alone, unloved, and unwanted. Face to face, person to person, we give and receive the gift of each other’s presence. We can meet Christ waiting for us to love Him in the poor, waiting for us to wake up from our indifference, waiting for us to overcome our fear and prejudice, waiting for us to open our heart to the person in front of us.
René Voillaume, who helped to start the Little Brothers of Jesus, once gave a series of conferences about religious life. These were compiled in a book, and our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth, had the following passage underlined:
“We must again consider what is implied by the notion of the ‘poor one.’ The poor person is one who has nothing but his human dignity. He has nothing which can hide this essential dignity, nothing that can create an illusion, nothing that others can love in him except himself. Seldom, if ever, do we have occasion to love in others that which they would be in reality, if stripped of all they have acquired.”
Voillaume went on to say:
“Here we grasp the mystery of the human person and understand that really and truly we do not love men; we love what they give, what they appear. How often we say that someone is grand, wonderful, delightful and cultured! But do we say we love the poor person who has no charm, nothing to say because he is too much taken up with his work and the countless worries that beset him in daily life?”
God gave Sr. Mary Elizabeth the grace to love the poor, and she nurtured this grace throughout her life. She never hesitated to love people in their naked humanity. Sister wrote about one experience she had, when she went to visit a young man serving time in prison.
“He turned his face from me in the penitentiary visiting room. He was very young, tall and filled with hate, especially towards white ‘honkies.’ His face was hard and defensive in every aspect. I looked at him and loved him because he needed love so badly. ‘You need not talk to me if you choose not to. I just want to tell you I have seen the Warden and have gotten your friend out of solitary, I hope all goes well. If anything else bothers you or goes wrong just let me know. Goodbye.’
“As I rose to go and he realized I wanted nothing from him — not even recognition — that I had helped to bring about something he wanted very much, he reached across and shook my hand. Our eyes met. ‘Lady, this is the first time in my life I ever touched white skin without getting the creeps.’ I smiled — gave him the black brotherhood handshake — and departed.
“As I turned in leaving he stood with the first smile I had ever seen on his face. At that moment I shared with him the great degradation he had suffered from whites, and I flew to the car in tears.”
Voillaume, René. Vita Evangelica 4: Religious Life in Today’s World. Translated by Catherine Ann MacDonald, C.N.D. Ottawa: Canadian Religious Conference, 1970.
Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was a journalist and social activist. She co-founded the Catholic Worker newspaper, which carries on her dedication to peace and the works of mercy.
When Pope Francis addressed a joint session of the United States Congress on September 24, 2015, he spoke about Dorothy as an example of someone who worked to build a better future and who shaped the fundamental values of the American people:
“In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”
Of Dorothy’s many attractive qualities, there is one that stands out: she practiced what she preached. She loved the poor, she lived with the poor, and she lived as a poor person herself. She once wrote:
“The solution proposed… in the Gospels, is that of voluntary poverty and the works of mercy. It is the little way. It is within the power of all. Everybody can begin here and now…We have the greatest weapons in the world, greater than any hydrogen or atom bomb, and they are the weapons of poverty and prayer, fasting and alms, the reckless spending of ourselves in God’s service and for His poor. Without poverty we will not have learned love, and love, at the end, is the measure by which we shall be judged.”
Sr. Mary Elizabeth, our foundress, met Dorothy in 1966 when they were both invited to speak at the Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. This is Sister’s recollection of Dorothy:
“That’s where I met her personally, but I had known about her and read about her because in my younger days as a nurse I had worked with the Catholic Worker in Baltimore when it first started. I volunteered there for a short time while I was doing my studies at Mercy Hospital. So I knew about Dorothy and read about her and admired her very much. When she came to Loyola to speak I invited her to the house and she came. But my first meeting with her was at Wernersville.
“I admired her ability to live completely with the poor, and to share with them absolutely anything and everything she had. She never kept anything for herself alone. She was the poorest person I think I’ve ever met. Wherever they have a Catholic Worker house around Washington or Baltimore they always had a room for Dorothy, but Dorothy insisted that her room be used for the poor when she was not there. So many times when she would arrive from somewhere – if they didn’t know ahead of time – there was already a poor person sleeping in her room and she slept in somebody else’s bed. And if you knew Dorothy’s houses at that point in history, that was not like ‘I’ll sleep in your bed tonight,’ because a lot of those beds were wet in over and over again, and they smelled of urine terribly, and Dorothy would just go lay in one as if it were her own.
“She was the most selfless person I think I’ve ever heard of, and I really admired that tremendously. She was so detached. A very detached person. Except from her opinions, which she had a right to stand up for. But she was extremely detached. And very humble. But she did have a temper. I saw her one night put a priest in his place because he was speaking against the teachings of the Church. She really put him right where he belonged. She could handle any argument, anyone. But as I say she was simply, totally unattached to herself.
“The same thing came up when she spoke at Loyola. She was a controversial figure so they did have bouncers, so to speak, for her talk. And they almost had to use them because one man stood up. I think these people were sent by her enemies to talk out loud and heckle her.
“And so this guy stood up and said was it true that she had been arrested on a morals charge at one time. And she said ‘Yes, it’s true.’ But she said, ‘Worse than that.’
“And he said, ‘What?’
“And she said ‘I just remembered I have two coats in my closet at home and I can only use one.’ Which really carried a big message with it.
“And I thought, ‘God, isn’t she admirable?’ To say a thing like that in public, and not to defend herself on the morals charge whatsoever, but just simply to say yes, that she just remembered that she had two winter coats at home in the closet and she could only wear one. She just was a woman of principle, at any expense to herself whatsoever. Never did she come first, she was always last in whatever God’s cause was. So that’s why I admired her. I certainly don’t have her virtues, but I admire them.”
On Dorothy’s visit to the Joseph House in May 1966:
“She came, and knowing how poor she lived, and knowing that certainly I was not rich in any way shape or form, but knowing also that she lived in this total disorder and total untidiness, and I at that point in life was very tidy, because I had the energy to be tidy, I was worried because my place looked nice even though it was very poor. And I thought, ‘Is she going to think that I don’t care about poverty?’ I was really concerned that maybe she would be offended by that. And when she walked in the front door I had a little classroom on the side in what would be the living room, and they had desks and chairs and a little library, and that’s of course what she saw first. So I thought, ‘Well, I wonder what she’s going to think?’
“And she looked at it and looked at it and she looked around and she said, ‘I would give my right arm to have a place like this.’ [laughter] So I breathed easy. Yes, she was really a wonderful woman.
“So she gave us a talk that night in one of the classrooms. We had a classroom upstairs. And she went to Mass. And when it was over, I had put her in one of the back bedrooms where she would be quiet. All my things were very poor, and she had a little poor rocking chair with no arms on it. And so I went back to see if she wanted anything before she retired, and she was sitting in the little rocking chair in her night gown, and rocking back and forth and preparing for the Mass in the morning. She was reading the prayers of the Mass for the next morning and was preparing for that.
“She really was a very holy person. Extremely holy, very prayerful and just. Justice was a big thing with her. And justice was a big thing with me and I think that’s another reason I liked her so much. I didn’t fear poverty as much as I feared injustice for the poor.”