By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 10, 2020
ATLANTA—Many people at this time of year dig deeper into their pockets to help charities, whether putting cash in the collection basket at Mass for Catholic Charities Atlanta or donating to nonprofits in stores wrapping Christmas gifts. But coronavirus rules limit Mass attendance and a boom in online shopping is taking people out of physical stores. The traditional holiday fundraisers for nonprofits like Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul have had to be reimagined.
Catholic nonprofits in the Archdiocese of Atlanta are adapting as they increase online resources, so it is easier for people to give. All this comes as requests for aid continue to climb.
“It is the mission of the church in times of need to serve those who are disadvantaged,” said Vanessa Russell, CEO of Catholic Charities Atlanta. “Our light is still on.”
Staff at Catholic Charities face triple the number of requests for assistance from pre-COVID-19 levels. Utility, apartment and house debt has grown as job loss or reduction of hours climb for many people.
As the pandemic swept through Georgia, working people faced job loss and loss in hours. In October, a preliminary count found 231,453 people without jobs, up from 159,611 in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Catholic Charities is approaching one of its key fundraisers—the annual Christmas collection—but parishes attendance at many locations remains limited. However, Russell said the donations are “critical to addressing the needs of families in distress.”
For St. Vincent de Paul Georgia, the organization created a new initiative that’ll allow people to shop at home for meaningful presents. Donors can pick gifts, from $100 to feed a family with canned foods, fresh produce and frozen meats for a week to filling a prescription for $30.
A church still working
The pandemic disrupted traditional giving. Dinners and galas have had to rely on technology to be switched online. What’s lost is the glitz of a ballroom and community aspect of the evening, even as donations are still needed. Nonprofits only expect to bring in about half of what they budgeted at the beginning of 2020, reported a survey of 120 nonprofits by the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum.
Catholic Charities Atlanta hosted donors at its $250-a-plate February fundraiser before the virus hit. But online events since then only brought in about 30 percent of the expected income, Russell said. The organization has already booked its spring fundraiser for April at the Georgia Aquarium.
Meanwhile, Catholic Charities Atlanta hopes donations at its Christmas Mass collection can help make up the difference.
Christmas is often the most well-attended Mass as visitors and families fill pews for the traditional service. A second collection is taken in churches in the Archdiocese of Atlanta dedicated to Catholic Charities Atlanta. This financial support is responsible for an estimated 10 percent of its operating budget, said Russell.
But this year, with social distancing requirements and coronavirus fears, fewer people may attend in person.
The organization is sharing more of its story so that people who don’t attend Mass will still know that their help remains vital, she said.
Parishes are getting materials to be printed in church bulletins. For the digital audience, video stories showcasing the work of its staff will be available online. The website also offers different ways to give.
With demand for housing support and case management to help those struggling, Russell said the organization knows it’ll be working with families and individuals for at least the next 18 months to help them recover from the pandemic financial fallout.
“You may not be in church, but we are church and we’re still working,” she said. “We appreciate any support you can give us, so we can continue to be that vital community resource right now.”
SVdP changing lives
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia has helped with Clark’s Christmas Kids for five years. The program provides gifts for youngsters in Georgia’s foster care system. But this year, the program is virtual.
Already this year, the organization sidelined its three big money-makers: a golf tournament, a dinner and breakfast meeting, which typically raised some $500,000. The nonprofit went online with one event, called “A Big Night In.” Elizabeth Sirk, the chief development officer, said the hour event with guest Clark Howard brought in about one-third of the usual revenue. Other grants and benefactors helped make up the difference, she said.
St. Vincent de Paul Georgia, the 117-year-old nonprofit that provides services to people living in poverty and the working poor, created this year the online “Giving catalog.”
From the catalog, donors can select several specific areas of its mission to support, from $500 for emergency housing assistance to $20 transportation vouchers.
Sirk said the goal gives people the chance to shape someone’s life for the better.
“We want people this holiday season to think about giving a gift that makes a difference. Instead of giving someone the typical gift card, or I don’t know, a pair of cozy socks or something like that, these are gifts that change people’s lives,” she said.
If people are unable to contribute financially, volunteers are always needed, Sirk said. Advocates for the poor are concerned for people who at the end of December may lose their federal enhanced unemployment and other financial relief benefits created at the start of the pandemic. The demand for the agency’s services will spike as these people come seeking help, she said.
Read about the Christmas Connections program which assists families served by Catholic Charities Atlanta.