By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 23, 2009
More than 500 friends of Catholic Charities showed their support for the social service agency in the midst of a lengthy economic recession, an atmosphere of anxiety and climbing unemployment.
“This is a gathering of Good Samaritans. You people believe in tomorrow. You stepped forward,” said George Levert, chair of the Catholic Charities of Atlanta Gala. He and his wife, Dale, were key organizers of the second annual fundraising event.
The turnout filled the Phoenix Ballroom at the JW Marriott Hotel Buckhead Thursday, April 16. But even with the strong turnout, economic realities crept in. During the live auction, there wasn’t the buzz of last year’s event. A round of golf with the archbishop went for $2,000. In 2008, the prize brought in $5,000.
Overall, the evening raised a little more than $200,000, down about a third from last year’s fundraiser, according to Levert.
He said the shortfall in raising money reflects economic times, but the gala’s purpose of elevating Catholic Charities’ community profile was a success. Nearly 100 more people attended this year’s event than in 2008 and they will tell others about Catholic Charities’ success, he said.
Joseph Krygiel, CEO of Catholic Charities Atlanta, said he was pleased with the turnout of people given the economy. It shows tremendous support within the Catholic Church of North Georgia for the work of Catholic Charities, he said.
At the same time, demands for services are outpacing shrinking financial support, he said. Catholic Charities Atlanta in 2008 helped 9,000 families and handled more than 30,000 calls for assistance. This year, Georgia has seen the number of unemployed residents climb to more than 9 percent and Georgia ranks in the top 10 states for home foreclosures.
The gala was hosted by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. Attending the dinner was Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue and prominent city, political and business leaders. Russ Spencer, news anchor at FOX 5 News, emceed the evening. A focus was the immigration work done by the agency.
Archbishop Gregory thanked the crowd. The work of Catholic Charities Atlanta is vast, from assisting people without work to helping refugees settle into a new community, he said.
“You are responding to the cries of those who are poor through commitment to the works of charity, justice and of peace,” he said.
Church ministries, such as Catholic Charities, have helped people in bad economic times since the country was formed.
Keynote speaker Father Larry Snyder said there is much anxiety about layoffs. People face enormous challenges, with experts estimating 50 million Americans will fall below the poverty level by the end of the recession, he said.
“People needing assistance are reaching epic proportions,” said Father Snyder, the president of Catholic Charities USA.
Catholic leaders have always responded and reached out to others when times were difficult. During the Great Depression, Catholic leaders shaped the formation of Social Security, the most successful anti-poverty program in the country, Father Snyder said. After Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, Catholic Charities Atlanta was a leader in the recovery effort, he said.
“In trying times, the leadership of Catholic Charities throughout this country did not look around for signs of hope. They consciously decided to be that sign of hope instead,” Father Snyder said.
And advocacy and service continue now, he said.
“Catholic Charities provides help and creates hope for thousands of individuals every year,” said Father Snyder.
“You should be very proud of your work that is done in the name of the church, but offered to anyone in need, regardless of background or religion,” he said.
In 1910, the ministry was founded at The Catholic University of America and sparked a national movement. At that time the challenge was that more than half of Catholics were born in foreign lands. The church provided channels so that people could become successful citizens, he said.
“The Catholic Charities network is committed to reducing poverty in this country by not only serving the poor and the disadvantaged but by doing so with programs and services that will empower them to take control of their lives,” he said.
Pressures on people are troubling, he said. Some 90 percent of Catholic Charities’ agencies have reported additional assistance requests and 80 percent are seeing more people asking for rent and mortgage aid.
“I am confident we will not shrink from the task at hand today,” he said.
Krygiel said Atlanta faces those same demands. Requests for help with utility bills, counseling, workshops on foreclosures and housing have doubled in a year as financial resources from benefactors are cut back, he said.
Also at the dinner, retired attorney Charles Lester Jr. of the Sutherland Law Firm in Atlanta received the Archbishop Donoghue Award, the highest award from Catholic Charities. He worked as the pro-bono attorney at the law firm, served as the director of the Georgia Asylum & Immigration Network and led the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, among other accomplishments.
Lester, who received a standing ovation, was recognized for “giving a voice to those who have been silenced due to their lack of resources.”
“I really think Catholic Charities does God’s work,” he said.