By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
Home visits are the core ministry of the more than 800 Catholics who volunteer with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of North Texas in 40 parishes across nine counties, even more so than the organization’s ability to offer people, many who are seniors, assistance in paying rent or utility bills or buying groceries. But social distancing and other measures taken recently to combat the COVID-19 virus have forced volunteers like Carol Newman of St. Pius X Catholic Church to settle for phone calls as an alternative.
“It’s very difficult for all of us,” said Newman, who has volunteered for seven years. “You can build relationships better when you’re sitting there in person. It shows them that we are in this with them. We hold hands, and we pray. The people that we serve, most of them, that’s their favorite part. Yes, they need food, they need a bill paid, but they like that human interaction and connection.”
The society is just one of multiple Catholic-affiliated organizations adjusting to their continued service to seniors in the current environment. Many of the society’s food pantries have adjusted to making deliveries on request that are left outside a person’s door. The Jan Pruitt Community Pantry — operated in Lancaster by Catholic Charities Dallas, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the North Texas Food Bank — remains open six days a week but is limited to drive-up service. Rigo Aguilar, program manager of the pantry, said demand has increased during the current crisis. CCD has also adapted its Brady Senior Program to include food delivery following the center’s recent closing.
Such efforts have become more financially challenging, Catholic Charities Dallas CEO Dave Woodyard noted, with the reduction in revenue coming from the suspension of Masses celebrated across the diocese.
Michael Stratman, Diocese of Dallas associate director of family life, estimates that one-third of parishioners have their donations to weekly collections directly drafted online.
With shelter-in-place directives affecting much of the region, Stratman encouraged seniors to remain active at home as much as possible and for non-seniors to be vigilant about keeping involved with their older friends and neighbors, including making regular phone calls. He also recommended contacting the North Central Texas Aging & Disability Resource Center (855-937-2372) and the Senior Source (214-823-5700) for specific suggestions related to the current health environment.
Stratman also reminded that while Bishop Edward J. Burns granted dispensation from the weekly Mass obligation beginning in mid-March that Catholics can say the prayer for Spiritual Communion, which has served as a surrogate for Catholics who can’t physically receive Holy Communion. Stratman also recommended accessing the Catholic Faith Network and the Catholic Grandparents Association online for seniors to remain active in their faith lives.
St. Jude in Allen is an example of a parish trying to continue to serve seniors under the current restrictions, similar to what’s facing the service organizations. In replacing home visits with phone calls, texts and emails, volunteers are reading the daily reflections from The Word Among Us to those at home among other services.
“I think we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got,” said Deacon Ron Fejeran, who heads the parish’s pastoral care ministry. “It is a challenge, but I will say the people, the staff at St. Jude, the volunteers, they’re just marvelous.”