Whether it be food, clothing, medications and medical care, car repairs or some other immediate need, the Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal plays a vital role in easing the financial crises of hundreds throughout the Rochester diocese..
The 35th annual appeal, a cooperative effort of the Courier and diocesan Catholic Charities, was to kick off in late November with a goal of $54,000. The 2003 Appeal brought in a total of $49,120 from more than 750 individual donors, said Donna Stubbings, appeal coordinator and circulation manager for the Courier.
Throughout December, the Courier‘s monthly and weekly issues will contain feature stories about individuals and families who’ve been helped through the Christmas Appeal. These stories will be accompanied by coupons encouraging readers to contribute.
View from the Tier
Approximately 21 percent of the annual collection is distributed to Catholic Charities agencies in Chemung/Schuyler, Tompkins/Tioga and Steuben counties, according to Judy Taylor, advocacy and communications coordinator for diocesan Catholic Charities.
Christmas Appeal monies are generally designated for emergency assistance. For example, the 2003 Appeal provided funding through Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga’s Samaritan Center for a single father of two who couldn’t afford car repairs to get to work. Theresa Olaf-Bennett, Samaritan Center director, noted that the man has since found better-paying employment, which may not have occurred without the assistance he received.
“This has made an incredible difference,” Olaf-Bennett said. “The value of this is helping people become stronger community members. In a way you can look at it as putting on a Band-Aid, but the wound heals and they become stronger.”
Olaf-Bennett said she often puts Christmas Appeal monies toward prescriptions as well as car repairs, whereas the Chemung County Samaritan Center in Elmira directs much of its Appeal allocation toward food, clothing and prescriptions. Cindy Smith, the Chemung Samaritan Center’s director, described two recent Appeal recipients with especially tough circumstances: a man and his pregnant fiancee who were living out of their car and needed food; and a man who had lost his arm to cancer and couldn’t afford three expensive prescriptions.
Another Catholic Charities program, Bath’s Turning Point Community Solutions Center, assists Steuben County residents with food, rent, utilities and medical needs. Cris Wensel, Turning Point’s director, reported that $400 in Christmas Appeal funds have helped cover expenses for a woman with cancer and her sister. Both women were being tested for bone-marrow compatibility at an out-of-state hospital.
Wensel said this case is representative of many Turning Point recipients whose circumstances might not qualify them for immediate government assistance. In this sense, Wensel said, the Christmas Appeal “comes as a gift to help people that nobody else can help — there’s no really well-defined box. We have the leeway to spend (Appeal funds) that we’ve been entrusted as a Catholic Charities agency to do.”
Sue Bozman, associate director of Turning Point, noted that $500 from the 2003 Christmas Appeal went toward the cost of Christmas baskets, which were given to 165 families last year. Bozman said there is again a high demand for Christmas baskets as well as an increased need at Turning Point’s food pantry.
“Given the current economic climate … we are anticipating more people in need this holiday season,” Bozman said.
Smith, of Elmira’s Samaritan Center, voiced similar concern for her region.
“The Appeal is more important than ever right now in a community that is presently facing layoffs of 800,” said Smith, referring to the planned December closing of the MT Picture Display plant in Horseheads. “We’re already starting to feel it.”
Crisis funding in Finger Lakes
Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes received 21 percent of appeal donations received in 2003, according to Judy Taylor, director of advocacy and communications for diocesan Catholic Charities. That amounts to more than $10,000, which was used to help those in the areas served by Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes, including Wayne, Ontario, Yates, Seneca and Cayuga counties. Since the 2003 appeal, Catholic Charities of Wayne County has been formed, and both agencies will receive a portion of the proceeds from the 2004 appeal.
Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes puts its portion of appeal proceeds into an urgent-needs fund, said Debbie Cole, director of services for the agency. In the past, money from this fund has been used to purchase baby formula, diapers, winter clothing and baby cribs for needy families, Cole said.
Potential Christmas Appeal donors need not worry that their donations will be spent frivolously, she added. The agency tries not to spend more than $100 on any one family’s needs, and larger items, such as cribs, are usually purchased second-hand.
Through the Christmas Appeal, Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes has occasionally helped families pay for one of their utility bills, and in rare cases has helped a family with their rent. Since monthly rent for an apartment is usually several hundred dollars, this is one expense that could quickly wipe out the agency’s entire urgent-needs account, Cole said. When Christmas Appeal funds are used to help a family pay its rent, caseworkers examine the situation to make sure the family is actively doing something to prevent the same situation from occurring the following month, she added.
Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes often identifies potential appeal-fund recipients through its Maternity and Early Childhood Program. Through this program, direct-services providers help local families — many of them single-parent households — improve their parenting skills and make connections with resources and services.
Growing needs in Livingston, Monroe
In Livingston and Monroe counties, appeal proceeds will go toward the emergency funds of the various offices of Catholic Charities throughout the diocese, as well Kinship Family and Youth Services, Bishop Sheen Ecumenical Housing Foundation and various Rochester parishes and ministries. Recipients of appeal funds are often people who are ineligible for other forms of assistance.
“Requests for assistance with prescription medicines and utility bills are increasing, especially from the working poor in our area,” said Joseph DiMino, executive director of Catholic Charities of Livingston County. “The people we serve often do not have medical insurance; higher fuel prices have hurt the poor the most. We use the support we receive from the Christmas Appeal to serve people who have these types of basic life needs. It is a critical source of funding for our rural ministry.”
Carolyn A. Portanova, president and chief executive officer of Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, expressed a similar view.
“Your readers’ generosity makes such a difference in the lives of those who are hungry, homeless or facing emergencies that prevent them from providing even the most basic of life’s necessities for their families,” she said. “Catholic Family Center thanks you for keeping the spirit of Christmas in your hearts and remembering those who are struggling with life.”
Marv Mich, director of social policy and research at CFC, convenes a committee yearly to examine applications for Hunger Relief grants that combine monies raised through the Christmas Appeal and Operation Rice Bowl, a Lenten fundraiser. He noted that the Christmas Appeal has become more and more important over the past several years.
“Corporate giving is down; government funding is down … and the needs are increasing,” he said. “The need is greater and the traditional resources are less.”