Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark continues to serve poor

Despite a global pandemic, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark continues to serve the poor and spread God’s message of hope and mercy.

“We never stopped working,” said John Westervelt, the Chief Executive Officer of CCAN. “A lot is still going on in Catholic Charities even though today is 128 days since the pandemic started. We’re still servicing the poor either through Telehealth or in person.”

The worldwide health crisis has forced Catholic Charities to make adjustments to how they serve those in need. For example, appointments with doctors and counselors are conducted over Zoom video conferencing or on the phone. This approach is fine for some, but computers and smart phones are not always accessible to the poor.

“So, we’ve seen a major decrease in the number of people coming for services to our behavioral health,” Westervelt said. “But on the other side, we’ve seen a lot more people come to our parish access centers and food pantries looking for food and looking for ways of how they can pay their mortgages or rents. We do get money from the government to help support that.”

Catholic Charities provides financial assistance through its Community Access division. In addition to emergency rental assistance, the organization helps the needy pay utility bills, or insurance. They also provide adult protective services, assistance for caregivers of the elderly, older adult services for Hispanic populations, food shopping, and much more.

“I think all over the country Catholic Charities will be the point person for a lot of this new Covid-19 funding coming through the government in the next couple of months,” Westervelt said.

While Catholic Charities receives some government funding, the organization relies heavily on donations. Thanks to a well-timed $50,000 donation from the Knights of Columbus in April, Westervelt said they were able to provide over 8,600 households with 36,000 meals. Local fundraisers and food drives in Newark, Cranford, and Union City have also helped, he said.

The Emergency Food and Nutrition Network supports over 70 food pantries throughout the Archdiocese of Newark. Because local food pantries are mostly run by elderly volunteers, some needed to close, Westervelt said. However, most of them stayed open and volunteers managed to feed those in need during difficult circumstances.

For six weeks beginning in March, the New Jersey Department of Health shut down clothing bin collections – a key fundraising source for Catholic Charities. Westervelt said donations came roaring back in June when the collection was almost $25,000.

“A lot of people being home probably took advantage of doing some spring cleaning,” Westervelt said. “So, the bins filled up. We’ll see what July brings, but June was more than usual. So that was good to see.”

Catholic Charities has about 100 bins at 72 different locations. Westervelt said they are important because donations are down across the organization.

“People are not donating like they were prior to the pandemic,” he said.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark runs one of the largest and oldest shelter systems in New Jersey. They are a big part of the organization’s mission, Westervelt said.

The pandemic has forced shelters to make adjustments to promote social distancing. The number of people that can be housed in one of the seven Catholic Charities shelters needed to be reduced by almost half. In some cities motels and hotels are being used to offset demand, Westervelt said. Meanwhile, shelters can still serve as a place for the homeless to shower, eat and get other assistance.

“We’re trying to keep as many people off the streets and inside,” he said.

Shelter personnel wear personal protective equipment like gloves, masks, and shields, and shelters are cleaned regularly. Temperature screening checks are part of the new normal.

“Thank God we haven’t had any outbreaks,” Westervelt said.

Catholic Charities provides a number of educational and job skills training services to the community which needed to be closed or limited. As the state continues to open up Westervelt said he hopes these workforce development programs can restart.

Many of the services offered by Catholic Charities are needed even more now, he said. And despite these difficult times, there are still many positive stories of hope and healing.

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