Maria Fernandez recently lost her job as the hospitality business dried up due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s no conventions, nothing there,” she said of the work she did at a hotel in Downtown St. Louis for eight years. “It’s a big problem.”
Fernandez came to Catholic Charities of St. Louis in search of legal assistance. At her visit, someone told her about a distribution of food and personal care items July 24. It was a much-needed boost, she said.
The event was the second distribution of care packages hosted by Catholic Charities, in cooperation with Operation Food Search. The first distribution held in May attracted more than 450 households, with the July 24 event reaching nearly 500 households. In all, 930 unduplicated households were served between the two events.
Cars lined up along Lindell Boulevard and processed through the semi-circle driveway at Catholic Charities’ administrative offices. Each household received a selection of produce and dairy, sandwiches, non-perishable food items and personal care items. Members of the Missouri National Guard and Catholic Charities employees and volunteers were on hand to help with the distribution.
“We saw the need in the community, and knew that we could do this,” said Catholic Charities president Theresa Ruzicka. “We connected with Operation Food Search through the (St. Louis) Regional Response Team. It seemed like a natural fit.”
Ruzicka noted that many people are still out of work, with some businesses remaining closed or with reduced staff. A moratorium on evictions in St. Louis City also ended in July, which she said will further impact the need in the community.
“It’s going to cause a lot of people to struggle even more,” she said.
Beyond the ongoing work of its eight federated agencies, Catholic Charities has been responding to the needs related to the pandemic since March. Efforts have included distribution of food and disposable face masks, personal care items, gift cards to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for its clients, and the creation of a call center to address the growing number of requests for COVID-19 related assistance.
“Our faith is what compels us to do this,” said Deacon Brian Selsor, Catholic Charities’ director of mission integration. “We do this because we are Catholic, and we do it because we’re sons and daughters of a Father who loves us.”
While Catholic Charities’ agencies are providing long-term care, “the needs today cause us to be adaptable and adjust. How do we respond to those needs in a way that is noble? It’s social work, but with a genuine love for our fellow man,” Deacon Selsor said.
Krystal Bagge was among the nearly 50 volunteers who helped with the July 24 distribution. As she handed out bags filled with personal care items and non-perishable food items, Bagge, a member of Catholic Charities’ Young Professionals Group, reflected on how she felt called to do something to help make a difference for others.
At home with her parents for the first 12 weeks of the pandemic, “I felt like I was contributing nothing and heard all these stories of people doing things to help,” she said. “This was a chance for me to get out and make a small impact.”