By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published April 16, 2020 | En Español
ATLANTA—Families being self-sufficient takes on a new meaning as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused great job loss in the United States and around the world.
However, Catholic Charities Atlanta maintains the mission of self-sufficiency for the families it serves. The immediate challenge is keeping client relationships going when staff is unable to see them, said Vanessa Russell, chief executive officer for CCA.
Coronavirus is a major blow to St. Vincent de Paul Georgia, forcing closings of 11 of its thrift stores, canceling food drives and reducing financial donations. The virus limits the direct-aid assistance available to the community, said John Berry, chief executive officer for the state chapter.
Despite the adversities, both ministries are committed to serving as many families as possible.
“We are finding ways to work with what we do have and still deliver services and programs with social distancing guidelines in place,” said Berry.
Russell agrees it has been a challenge, but the organization is working to overcome obstacles.
“We have found new ways to advocate for our clients,” she said.
Food needs have increased for both ministries. On March 24 and 26, Catholic Charities had “drive-by-drop-off” drives, where food donations were collected, cleaned and prepared for recipients. In early April, donations were provided for low-income seniors at St. Joseph’s Place, to multiple parishes and others in need. Donations were also delivered to Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, where volunteers put boxes of food together for student families.
The best food donations for Catholic Charities are single-serve items with a pop-top or food that can be cooked in a microwave. Gift cards for grocery stores are also helpful.
“We’re going to try using gift cards more to get money in the hands of clients that need it,” said Russell.
For volunteers and staff working with the food drives, gloves, masks and disinfecting wipes are also welcome donations.
Food donations for St. Vincent de Paul have changed since the spread of the coronavirus. The “client-choice food pantry model that allowed clients the dignity to shop for their own groceries has moved to a prepared box model,” said Berry.
Staff and volunteers mobilized to deliver food boxes to 82 clients in late March and early April, totaling more than 1,500 pounds of food.
St. Vincent de Paul has set up emergency food drive drop-off locations for those wanting to donate perishable and nonperishable food. Donations are accepted at the St. Vincent de Paul Chamblee thrift store, 5463 Peachtree Road, and Chamblee family support center, 2050 Chamblee Tucker Road, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Also “reach out to your local St. Vincent de Paul conference at your parish to see how you can help them with their specific services, such as food deliveries and drives,” said Berry.
Unemployment and bills
One of the major effects of the coronavirus pandemic is how many people have lost their jobs and are unable to afford rent and utilities.
“It’s not only a health crisis, but an economic crisis,” said Russell.
In addition to helping their own clients, Catholic Charities helped 10 families with HomeFirst Gwinnett, a collaborative partnership with multiple organizations, stay housed and fed.
“We want to keep families together,” said Russell. “We want to keep families safe.”
The biggest problem is that people are out of work, said Russell. Unemployment does not replace a salary. If this goes on for more than three months, some will face severe economic hardship, she explained.
Financial assistance requests have increased as April bills are due, explained Berry.
“Just because utility providers have moratoriums for disconnection in place and evictions are not being processed, those bills are not forgiven,” said Berry.
Volunteer caseworkers are helping people remotely with rent and financial assistance, but donations are greatly needed to continue to serve those in need. A response fund for those impacted by COVID-19 is accepting donations online.
Both organizations have found ways to support those they serve through social distancing and other public health recommendations in response to the coronavirus. Both are serving clients in a more virtual manner, using phones, Zoom, apps and other programs.
Russell said that CCA is implementing new technology to allow for continued counseling of people in different ways.
St. Vincent de Paul helps with tax preparation, which is now done remotely. Home visits have also moved to remote, phone-only assistance, said Berry.
In addition to housing and food, Catholic Charities also seeks laptop and tablet donations to help students doing online learning since schools have closed. Volunteers are also tutoring students by phone and online.
As coronavirus continues to impact lives, Catholic Charities Atlanta and St. Vincent de Paul are discussing new ways to work together to help people through the pandemic.
“We’re innovating and serving,” said Russell.