Bleak headlines about the economic recession and dire predictions about the future have dominated national and local headlines of late, but parishioners of St. Patrick Church in Prattsburgh aren’t letting the financial forecast get them down.
In fact, the gloomy economic situation has inspired them to find new ways to put their faith — and their resources — into action to help those suffering from the recession’s effects. The parish recently formed a new group dedicated to doing just that.
The group will be known as St. Patrick’s A-Team, short for St. Patrick’s Assistance Team, said its founder, Deacon John Erb.
The idea for the A-Team began to take shape in his mind late last year as news from the financial sector became worse and worse by the day. He felt that as Christians, he and his fellow parishioners were called to do something to help their struggling neighbors.
"It’s a very clear response to the (Gospel) mandates to help your neighbor. The Good Samaritan story is one of the biggest defining stories of Christianity in some ways, to help people in trouble," he said. "Whether they’re part of your community or not, it’s part of who we are as Christians to reach out and help."
Shortly before Christmas he began recruiting parishioners to do so through a series of announcements in the bulletin of Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community, of which St. Patrick is a part. He wasn’t exactly sure what form this new group would take, but hoped that together the members could decide how best to respond to their neighbors’ needs.
"My idea was to gather a group of people together from the parish cluster to kind of brainstorm about how we can help people that are being affected by the recession or have lost jobs," he said.
The resulting team has been meeting since February and currently has four core members, including Deacon Erb and Sharon Tyo, the group’s spokesperson. Team members have drafted a mission statement but aren’t quite up and running just yet, Tyo said. They plan to continue researching the area’s existing resources before they reach a formal decision about exactly how they’ll operate, she noted.
"Right now we’re doing our homework, trying to find out what resources are available," Deacon Erb added. "There’s a lot going on. A lot of this is just getting the information out to people."
Ontario County Social Services Commissioner Eileen Tiberio met with the team March 19 to discuss the area’s existing resources and the various ways churches can help out their communities, he said. Team members also have met with representatives from similar groups already active in Our Lady of the Lakes’ other faith communities: St. Michael in Penn Yan, St. Andrew in Dundee, St. Theresa in Stanley, St. Mary in Rushville and St. Januarius in Naples.
"All the parishes have something going on, so I think it’s a very powerful statement about how they see their faith and how they see their faith in the world," Deacon Erb said, noting that he wants to make sure his group doesn’t duplicate the services provided by its counterparts at neighboring churches.
"The committee sees its goal to kind of be able to refer people to available services, not duplicate services, and then possibly fill in the gaps where private or public agencies might not be able to help them and possibly we can," he said.
This might mean providing financial help to families and individuals who fall upon hard times, Tyo said. Take, for example, one of the area’s many working poor, she said. These people work to support their families but barely have enough to make ends meet. If they run into car trouble, they don’t have enough money for repairs, yet without a working vehicle also can’t work and feed their families, Tyo said.
"They would fall into the cracks," she remarked.
St. Patrick’s A-Team hopefully would be able to help such individuals by covering the costs of the vehicle repairs, she said. She envisions the team entering into partnerships with such local businesses as garages, grocery stores and utility companies. Through this arrangement the team would refer its clients to these businesses in return for discounted services, and the team would pay the businesses directly, rather than simply giving the funds to its clients. This would help those in need while bringing more customers to local businesses, Tyo said.
Tyo said she hopes the team eventually will expand and begin working with the other churches in Prattsburgh. She’s encouraged by the warm reception the team already has received from St. Patrick parishioners.
"I’m sure we’re going to have wonderful support because people are fantastic out here. We’re trying to get as many people involved as possible. I’m really looking forward to getting it off the ground and then seeing where we can grow and expand," she said.