By Amy White
Special to The Texas Catholic
More than half a year into the pandemic, both the needs caused by COVID and the efforts to meet those needs have far from vanished.
On the frontlines of the Diocese of Dallas’ fight against pandemic-caused hardships—whether it be joblessness, sickness or loneliness—are Catholic Charities Dallas, the North Texas Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and partnered parishes.
Though the charitable efforts of these organizations pre-date the twists and turns of 2020, the pandemic has increased the sheer volume of needs and altered the ways in which these needs may be addressed.
For Catholic Charities Dallas, a flood of clients seeking meals has necessitated a 250% increase in food distribution, over 3 million meals since March. In November, the organization will continue to increase its food capacity to over 100 distributions a month—with each of those capable of feeding more than 300 families—by launching its third Mobile Community Pantry and a refrigerated delivery truck.
Increased food distribution has, in turn, required an increase in food program volunteers and employees at distribution sites.
“We simply need substantially more volunteers to distribute the large quantities of food currently demanded,” said Mike Murray, chief development officer for Catholic Charities Dallas.
Another ongoing need encountered by Catholic Charities is financial assistance. In response to thousands of pleas, the organization has distributed $4 million in financial assistance, raising $1 million in the first two months of the pandemic and $3 million by partnering with local cities and counties.
Adapting to a social-distanced world, Catholic Charities is also offering virtual services, including children’s education programs, senior service consultations and immigration counseling.
‘A higher gear’
Like Catholic Charities, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has adapted to social-distancing guidelines and to growing needs.
“Our focus has not shifted,” said Bob Greenfield, an officer for the society’s conference at Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church in Irving, “but we’ve had to shift into a higher gear.”
In “high gear,” the St. Vincent de Paul Pharmacy—which provides access to medication for low-income and uninsured patients—has supplied more than $2 million worth of medication for free since March. “We believe everyone deserves the dignity of access to health-sustaining medications,” pharmacist Carlos Irula said, “and we are grateful for the opportunity to serve.”
Additionally, the society has offered food and housing assistance throughout the pandemic. Though the society has traditionally provided much of its assistance through in-person visits, current conditions have required a socially-distanced approach.
“In March, we shifted gears to perform telephone visits to protect our members while still serving the increased need for food and housing assistance,” St. Vincent de Paul North Texas CEO Michael Pazzaglini said, adding that volunteers also conduct socially-distanced “porch drops” of emergency aid and provide drive-through services.
Other popular needs include rent and utilities assistance.
“Rent has been the biggest need,” said Carol Newman of the SVdP conference at St. Pius X Catholic Church in east Dallas. “We are getting calls from people who have never had to ask for help before.” Often, calls are from undocumented families who would now have no means of paying rent. The society’s monetary assistance includes a mini loan program and CARES emergency financial assistance.
In gathering the necessary funds for such generous giving, St. Vincent de Paul has faced some COVID-caused challenges. For example, crowd restrictions have hindered certain fundraising opportunities. “We had to accept that our conference’s biggest fundraiser, Bingo, was no longer viable,” said Susan Knapp of the conference at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco.
Instead, Knapp said a virtual Friends of the Poor Walk was held.
Because of these and similar difficulties, the outpouring of aid from the local Catholic community has been vital to both the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Charities—a necessary means by which these organizations have helped thousands over the duration of this pandemic.