Economic Slowdown: Thoughts from a Friar on How to Help

A. Francis Soucy, OFM Features

This article was submitted by a member of the Province’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC). It is part of a series written by friars and partners in ministry from the Province and the Directorate, chaired by Daniel Dwyer, OFM. Holy Name’s Office of JPIC is based in Washington, D.C., and is directed by Russell Testa. Direcorate members meet quarterly with the goal of helping the friars and  ministries of the Province enhance the quality and quanty of their JPIC activity. This reflection arose out of our Directorates last meeting where we wanted to offer some initial thoughts on the current economic slowdown felt by many residents of the United States. 

The economically comfortable in our country keep a close eye on the stock market and other investments. They are especially vigilant these days when fear of a complete economic recession increases.

But for many, the premonition of recession is not seen on the pages of the Wall Street Journal, but on the shelves of the local supermarket. Two weeks ago, one of my lay staff complained that Macintosh apples were 99 cents a pound. Now they’re $1.29. Others have pointed out that lean hamburger meat went from $2.49/pound to $3.29. These workers now shop for the cheapest, not the healthiest, food. They rely on reports from friends: “I found grapes for $1.99 at the A&P.” “The cheapest I’ve found sugar is at the Stop-N-Shop on Pine Street.” “Coffee is cheaper this week at Dunkin’ Donuts.”  

These exchanges are more than just ordinary friendly chatter among women. They resemble official reports to direct one another to the best buys. Inflated prices on grocery items are affecting my staff and are especially burdensome for the lower-income personnel.

Other friaries may have employees experiencing the same problem. We ask, “What can be done to help during the current struggle?” Most places can’t increase salaries to match continued inflation. Handouts are not always available, and besides, they may offend. The offer of food cards from local grocery stores with an explanation that someone gave it to you to give someone who needs it may help. A bold suggestion to a friendly physician who may be caring for a financially strapped employee to waive the co-pay is another idea. A friary’s imaginative response will depend on the need, the people involved, and available resources.

The important point for us to realize is that people who may ordinarily manage decently with their income are now beginning to feel the pinch, especially those on fixed incomes and in the lower salary brackets. If any of those affected are in our employ, or in the area of our ministry, we may want to help. We need to remain alert to discover who needs help. It is sometimes someone who did not need it yesterday.

— Fr. Francis, director of Holy Name Community in Ringwood, N.J., is featured in the spring 2008 issue of The Anthonian.