Food is sorted the week of March 23, 2020, at the food pantry of the Elizabeth K. Galeana Center of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. in Fort Myers. (COURTESY)

Catholic Charities helping most needy

Venice  |  The motto of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. is: “Providing Help. Creating Hope. Serving All.” Since the beginning of the pandemic crisis, the staff of Catholic Charities is living that motto on the front lines of helping people throughout the 10-county Diocese.

With a long history within communities across the region, Catholic Charities is putting its resources and focus on the critical needs of providing food, financial assistance and telehealth mental health counseling.

“Catholic Charities is here to help those in need during this challenging time and ramping up its efforts to enhance support programs,” said Philomena Pereira, Catholic Charities CEO. “We have adjusted our focus to help in ways that will make the greatest difference to those in greatest need: food, financial assistance as well as mental health counselling.”

Before the pandemic, Catholic Charities already assisted tens of thousands of individuals and families with a variety of support services. That broad effort focused on providing people with not just a helping hand, but a help up toward stability. With the onset of the pandemic, the focus is on ensuring the neediest of communities serviced by Catholic Charities are not forgotten and can get the emergency help they need.

“The loss of jobs in the community is having a big impact,” Pereira explained. “Many of the people we see live paycheck-to-paycheck, and the sudden closure of so many businesses at once is devastating.”

As the situation has developed, the leadership of Catholic Charities, in consultation with Bishop Frank J. Dewane and the board of directors, has worked to ensure that the critical needs within the community continue and are in key areas are enhanced.

Stressed during this time is to make sure all appropriate precautions are being taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all clients, volunteers, staff and community. 

The initial effort of Catholic Charities included strategically purchasing food and distributing supplies to food pantries located throughout the Diocese. This was and will continue to be done through existing long-term food banks and other reliable sources. A large donation of rice and beans from Cheney Bros. Inc. in Punta Gorda helped to supplement other purchases.

Food distribution will take place only at existing pantry locations in Sarasota, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Naples and Immokalee. Clients will receive a pre-packaged bag or box of food items for their family, and arrangements are being made to ensure both those distributing and those receiving food remain healthy and a safe distance apart. Additional food distribution points are also being established at select parishes in the Eastern Deanery.

Catholic Charities is also working to provide financial assistance for those in need. Financial assistance may include utility payments, prescription medication, or other critical needs. Persons in need will be exclusively assisted by phone for the foreseeable future.

In addition, Tele-Mental Health Counseling will be available for existing Catholic Charities clients, on a limited basis, using phone or video-conferencing. 

During this crisis, Catholic Charities has established three toll free numbers for people needing assistance available 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. (Have patience as the demand for assistance is high.) The numbers are as follows:

• Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto/Hardee/Highlands counties, 844-385-2407

• Charlotte/Lee/Hendry/Glades counties: 844-385-2423

• Collier County: 844-385-2404

Until further notice, Catholic Charities is restricting its offices to staff only. Services for persons in need will be assisted by phone.

While Catholic Charities relies heavily on volunteers, at this time, all volunteers are currently being asked to refrain from coming to offices unless otherwise notified. For questions about volunteering, refer to your area-specific number listed above for assistance.

Additional steps include the suspension of shower services and clothing donations until further notice. Further, two major fundraisers, the Emerald Ball and the AFCAAM golf tournament were indefinitely postponed.

If you want to help, our food supply is the most important! Our pantry locations plan to deliver food to roughly 2,000 households across the 10 counties in the Diocese of Venice over the next several weeks. Funds to purchase food are greatly appreciated! You can help Catholic Charities respond swiftly and provide assistance to those in need by donating today at www,catholiccharitiesdov.org.

“Catholic Charities relies on the support of its generous donors and they can be assured that their contributions will go immediately to support those in the community in greatest need,” Pereira said.