Catholic parishes work together to write 3,000 letters


By Patricia Bidar

In January, Kayla Jacobs began serving as Justice and Peace Coordinator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. She came to the job after serving an internship at the Chicago Archdiocese and living in a Catholic Worker house. These houses, scattered across the U.S., are part of a Christian justice and charity movement and provide social services in their communities.

Jacobs hadn’t been at her new job long when an opportunity arose. “A man named Mike Huck contacted me to say that his church, St. Raphael Catholic Church in Naperville, Illinois, held an annual Offering of Letters,” she said. “He thought it would be great to scale up the activity by including more Catholic churches in the Joliet Diocese.”

Bread for the World’s annual Offering of Letters campaign engages faith groups in writing letters to Congress. This year, letter writers are urging Congress to provide robust funding for nutrition among mothers and children so these groups can “survive and thrive,” the theme of this year’s campaign.

The Joliet Diocese was definitely interested in mobilizing a major Offering of Letters. Huck put Jacobs in touch with Zach Schmidt, Bread’s regional staff person for the Midwest. “Once Zach was involved, things moved very quickly,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs contacted every parish in the Joliet Diocese. Eleven parishes decided to participate. “In April, we held a training to equip representatives from each parish,” Jacobs explained. “Most were Peace and Justice Ministry leaders from their churches.” Catholic Relief Services also made a presentation at the training.

Throughout May, all eleven churches conducted Offering of Letters activities. Jacobs organized a conference call in mid-May so participants could check in and share their experiences.

During the call, one participant voiced disappointment that her church’s members had produced only a handful of letters. The group encouraged her and suggested a few new strategies to try.

One parish, St. Anne’s in Oswego, Ill., has a long history of charitable activities, but advocacy with Congress was new to them. In the end, St. Anne’s parishioners wrote over 400 letters!

On June 1, the Diocese of Joliet held a dinner open to all who had participated. The effort had yielded 3,000 letters! Schmidt joined Jacobs and the group to share a meal and discuss the effort. He described what increased aid would mean to women and children.

The participant who had been discouraged during the conference call delightedly reported that her renewed efforts resulted in over 200 letters. She brought two of her colleagues with her to the dinner, where they spoke excitedly about launching a peace and justice ministry at their church.

“Then we prayed together and blessed the letters as an offering to God,” Jacobs says. “Zach Schmidt took them back with him to Washington, where they were hand delivered to congressional offices on Lobby Day, June 7.”

Helping women and children is important because they are the most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition. Good nutrition early in life — starting even in the womb — benefits them throughout their lives.

“We’re already looking ahead to how we’ll do the combined Offering of Letters next year,” Jacobs said.

Patricia Bidar is a freelance writer.

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