At the Sister Visitor Center, the phone rings all day, every day. The calls come from desperate neighbors and clients who need help paying rent, grocery and heating bills.
The center — which serves people in the Russell, Portland and Shawnee neighborhoods in West Louisville — has assisted 2,941 clients with food, clothing, utilities and rent since July, said Darko Mihaylovich, director of programs at Catholic Charities of Louisville.
When the other food pantries in the area closed at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, Sister Visitor remained open and provided assistance to 1,563 individuals in March 2020 alone. During the same month, the Sister Visitor center provided direct financial assistance totaling $17,534, Mihaylovich said.
During the first six months of the fiscal year, from July 2020 to January 2021, Sister Visitor Center distributed more than $250,000 to clients, he said.
“The need is out there. We probably haven’t helped everyone who needs it. It hurts that we cannot do more,” Mihaylovich said in an interview last week.
The Sister Visitor Center is just one program of Catholic Charities of Louisville that has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staff of Catholic Charities have witnessed with their own eyes the increased need of individuals and families since the world was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic nearly a year ago, said Deacon Lucio Caruso, director of mission at Catholic Charities.
Last March, when the novel coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic and life as we knew it changed almost overnight, Catholic Charities’ staff began working to process federal funds and secure grants from a variety of sources to provide aid to individuals and families in need.
To date, Catholic Charities has distributed more than $690,000 it received from federal and local grant monies and private donations to aid those experiencing need due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deacon Lucio Caruso, director of mission at Catholic Charities, said the need he and his staff have seen over the course of the year has increased exponentially as the pandemic situation continues to worsen.
“People are hurting. We are working to bring the presence of Christ and the church to people in tangible, concrete ways that really help and lift people up,” he said.
Deacon Caruso said the bulk of the funding has assisted people with rent/mortgage, utilities and food, in Jefferson County and throughout the Archdiocese of Louisville’s 24 counties in central Kentucky.
The largest sources of funding have come from the Louisville Metro COVID Relief Fund, Community Foundation of Louisville and through the federal CARES Act funding. Other sources of funding have been provided by Catholic Charities USA, Delta Dental and the Glick Foundation, as well as private donations from individuals.
Some of the sources, particularly from Louisville Metro, have strict guidelines on how the money can be disbursed, Deacon Caruso said. Many grants stipulate funds benefit residents of Jefferson County. He said the needs outside Jefferson County are vast and growing as well.
“As you get outside Jefferson County and go further downstate, there is not as much funding,” he said. “But, we’ve been able to tap other grant sources, specifically Catholic Charities USA and others that are not county-specific. That’s been really helpful,” he said.
In addition to providing direct aid to individuals and families, Catholic Charities has disbursed funds to community partner organizations, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and individual parishes as well.
Fifteen parishes that sought emergency funding last spring and summer received about $20,000. The funds were used to stock parish food pantries; assisting parishioners with basic needs (including food, rent and water); and even help with funeral costs for parishioners who died from complications from COVID-19.
Lisa DeJaco Crutcher, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities, said agency staff has seen an increased need in areas they don’t typically see, including Louisville’s East End.
“That’s why we are here. When people are in a time of crisis, we want to help them not only spiritually but also to be able to meet their material needs as well.
“We want them to come to our churches, we want to pray with them but we also want them to have enough to eat. It’s hard for someone to hear our spiritual message when they are worried about their kids having warm clothes for the winter,” she said.
DeJaco Crutcher added that those who have been able to give monetarily to the mission of Catholic Charities “have been giving generously.”