Earlier this year a 44-year-old woman learned her liver was not functioning properly, and after a three-week hospital stay her doctors determined she’d need a liver transplant. The woman had worked in the food-service industry all her life but suddenly found herself unable to work. She was eligible for disability benefits, but those benefits had not come through by the time her rent was due.
Afraid she’d lose her apartment, the woman turned to Catholic Family Center’s Community Resource Services. Caseworkers there matched her up with a $500 grant so she could pay rent until her disability benefits came through. Bobbi McGarrity, senior case manager with Community Resource Services, said that would not have been possible without the Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal. The annual appeal, which is in its 43rd year, raises money for Catholic Charities agencies and parish-supported ministries that help people facing financial emergencies and other crises.
Christmas Appeal funds are particularly valuable to such agencies because they don’t have the red tape attached to them as do most other funding streams, McGarrity noted. This leaves caseworkers free to use their judgment and try to help people who don’t qualify for any other forms of assistance.
"People are screened, but it gives us a little bit of flexibility," McGarrity explained.
That flexibility is especially welcome these days, when more people than ever before are turning to her agency for help, she added. Community Resource Services operates a food pantry, a clothing closet and some emergency shelters, and its caseworkers connect individuals with the resources they need.
"Our numbers since last year have increased by about 65 percent. We’re averaging 50 people a day," McGarrity said.
That’s 50 people each day who are in need of food, clothing or shelter, the most basic of human needs. More and more people are finding themselves in financial trouble as the prices of food, gasoline and everything in between continue to rise, McGarrity said.
"People’s resources don’t stretch as much. It’s really nothing different than in previous years (causing this), but we’re just seeing more," she explained.
Some people turn to Community Resource Services for assistance when they lose their jobs, and others turn to McGarrity’s agency when they have trouble navigating the social-services system, which has been dramatically restructured in recent months.
"They’ve done so much restructuring you can’t make heads or tails of the system. You can’t even talk to a live person anymore. Folks don’t know how to get the help they need," she said. "We’re there if people need an extra hand to secure resources, or if people need an extra hand navigating the system."
Money is tight for many people around the holidays, but some people’s financial crises don’t go away when the new year begins. Such crises can strike at any time of the year, but with the help of Christmas Appeal funds McGarrity and her colleagues do their best to help people in their moments of need, whenever those moments might be. Those appeal funds become even more valuable as ever-greater numbers of people walk through the agency’s doors, she said.
"The need is increasing but resources aren’t. They’re stretched," McGarrity said.