Twice a month about 150 seniors come to St. Mary’s Center to pick up their Mercy Brown Bag, a state sponsored grocery supplement program for low income seniors. Courtesy of St. Mary’s Center

The downturn of the economy has affected everyone worldwide. It has brought challenges to people of all shapes and sizes. Even those who want to help the needy have been affected. Four Catholic organizations tell Our Sunday Visitor how they have managed to continue to serve the needy, even when resources have taken a turn for the worse. 

St. Mary’s Center

St. Mary’s Center in Oakland, Calif., provides various services for low-income seniors, families and preschoolers in downtown and West Oakland. St. Mary’s offers services to provide basic human needs to extremely low-income seniors through its Senior Homeless Program and Seniors Advocates for Hope and Justice. The Food for All Ages program serves more than 1,200 seniors, children and families. St. Mary’s also runs a preschool. 

Carol Johnson, executive director of St. Mary’s Center, said the economy has taken its toll on some of the programs, seniors in particular. Funding for particular programs have been cut, and more are pending in California. 

“The most severe cuts are being shouldered by our seniors who depend on SSI [Supplementary Security Income for seniors, blind and disabled] whose monthly grants were reduced another $15, and our extremely low-income families with few resources,” she said. “All the while rents and most food prices have stayed the same.” 

Johnson said the services offered by St. Mary’s Center have expanded incrementally over the years but have not been able to keep up the pace with the demanding needs.  

Yet St. Mary’s Center continues to be committed to its programs and the people it serves. 

And Johnson has seen more generosity of people during these economic struggles. 

“Yes, people are more generous when they see the increased need,” she said. “However, our donors also feel the economic pinch. They, too, are part of the 99 percent.”

Holy Cross Children’s Services

Holy Cross Children’s Services in Michigan is one of the largest private, nonprofit providers of children’s services in Michigan. Services include residential campuses and group homes, charter schools, foster care homes and other services.  

“The resources of our children’s organization have been cut back by $25 million over the past three years, resulting in a nearly 50 percent reduction in the number of children and families that can be served,” said Holy Cross Brother Francis Boylan, who has served as the executive director and president of Holy Cross Children’s Services for more than 40 years. 

Brother Boylan said the economy has affected the needs of the community in many ways. 

“There are tremendous unmet basic care needs — food, shelter, clothing etc., increased mental health and substance abuse issues among adults in particular, increased rates of child abuse and neglect and increased needs for counseling and therapy,” he said. 

Despite the challenges, faith sustains those who work at Holy Cross Children’s Services. 

“Faith has entered into the call of service by refocusing on mission, rallying our staff around our need for service and reaching out to our Catholic ‘family’ of benefactors for increased private financial support,” said Brother Boylan.

Catholic Charities of Onondaga County

Catholic Charities of Onondaga County in New York serves families, children and teens, older adults and refugees. It provides emergency services, shelters and housing, as well as neighborhood centers and programs. 

“We believe that each person we encounter has infinite value and is worthy of our respect,” Toni Maxwell, associate director, told OSV. “We are the safety net for hundreds seeking the most basic of services — help with food, shelter and clothing.” 

With the economy being as it is, CCOC is serving an increasing number of people each year. In 2010 it served 28,000, an increase of nearly 3,000 over previous years. Requests for help from its housing program have risen, especially for rent and utility assistance.  

“Our resources wax and wane depending on various funding streams, but we have not had to reduce services.” 

CCOC has not experienced a drop-off in contributions, Maxwell said, and it seems providing information helps in that process. 

“Donors continue to support local charities,” she said. “We are, I think, doing a better job of telling the community about conditions facing our friends and neighbors.” 

Archdiocese of Omaha

Archdioceses and dioceses across the country have been affected by the economic downturn, and the Archdiocese of Omaha is no exception. 

Deacon Timothy F. McNeil, chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese, explained some of the changes that have taken place. 

“Staff was let go in 2010, and some service lines had to be discontinued because of pressure exerted on the budget,” he said. 

“Programs that were discontinued include St. Cecilia Institute, an adult faith formation center; our youth camp was closed; and we closed St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey High School, a unique school for low-income students,” said Deacon McNeil. 

While there are limits to what any diocese can do, McNeil said diocesan departments did work with their budgets. 

Several areas of the archdiocese are experiencing a pinch with the economy. 

“There is more pressure on area food pantries, St. Vincent de Paul chapters are receiving more requests, Catholic Charities is servicing more people, and some schools have seen a drop in enrollment,” he said. 

Yet, as a Catholic Church, it seems people are banding together to help those in need. 

“Priests and deacons are ministering more diligently to those affected by the economy,” Deacon McNeil told OSV. “Parishes are replenishing food pantries, scholarship funds are being offered to children whose parents are out of work, and marriage counseling services are being made available.” 

Deacon McNeil said the response of people wanting to help has increased. 

“Those with the means and unaffected by the economy have come forward in parishes to assist those negatively impacted by the economy,” he said. 

Elizabeth A. Elliott writes from Nebraska.