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CURRENT ISSUE:  October 20, 2008
VOL. 46, NO. 18   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page story
Yes on 8 campaign gains momentum with TV ads, volunteer advocates
Economic crisis places
more demand on non-profits

Catholic Charities sees increase
in requests, along with drop in
state funding, donor gifts

The economic downturn has Catholic Charities of the East Bay staring into a widening gap between the need for its programs and the resources to provide them.

Over the past year, CCEB has experienced 10- to 80-percent increases in requests for assistance — many involving critical needs like housing — combined with falling donations and cuts in state funding, said Colleen Miller, the agency’s director of development and public affairs.

And while facing that growing disparity, CCEB is also facing others’ high expectations that the agency can rise to meet the crisis, said Solomon Belette, Catholic Charities’ CEO.
“The honest truth is that we can’t do it with the current resources we have,” he said.

Miller said CCEB’s Critical Family Needs program, which provides limited cash assistance for emergencies, has experienced a 17 percent hike in requests for housing assistance and a 13 percent hike in requests for rental assistance, with job loss and the mortgage crisis being the primary catalysts.

Additionally, Miller said, demand for the Family Literacy and Community Violence Prevention programs has gone up by 80 percent and 60 percent, respectively.

Egidia Bollini, a housing counselor for the Critical Family Needs program in Concord, is testament to the rise in demand for foreclosure and rental help, which she calls “steady.”
Bollini said that when she began counseling in March, she spent a lot of her time helping renegotiate payments for clients who could pay something on their mortgage, but not the full amount. “Now we have people who can’t pay at all,” she said.

Case Manager Vicky Lizarraga said she has seen a rise in requests for healthcare and rent assistance. “In this economy, the cost of rent is high . . . this is a real issue,” she said. “There are a lot of evictions.”

Lizarraga, whose Family Strengthening Program provides case management services to low-income families in the Monument Corridor area of Concord, said her load has jumped from 75 families in 2007 to 105 so far this year.

And she isn’t just blaming unemployment. To the contrary, Lizarraga said, she has seen a jump in concerns about gang violence and drug use as parents are forced to take second jobs and are not around. “The family can become dysfunctional,” she said.

All this at a time when donors are also tightening their belts. Donations to the annual Catholic Charities appeal in May declined almost 11 percent across the diocese compared to 2007, Miller said, including a drop within parishes that typically collect the most.

CCEB also lost state funding for free childcare at its early education and jobs program, along with $20,000 for its naturalization program, Miller said. But by rotating babysitters and pulling money from elsewhere, she said, CCEB has saved both programs.

So far, CCEB has not been forced to cut any of its programs. “We’re stretching and we’re good stewards of the monies we receive, but this is a time that calls for expanding of resources beyond our capacity, which is why we need help,” Belette said.

The agency is seeking more grant money — likewise dwindling — and appealing to donors with a new “Telling Our Stories” series, which will showcase CCEB programs at parishes and speaker programs.

Miller said she recognizes that donors might be in a pinch, but encouraged them to cut back, rather than cut off, their contributions. She also suggested pooling donations with friends or co-workers, sharing contacts or program development ideas with CCEB, inviting CCEB into the workplace to talk about its programs, designating posthumous gifts, volunteering or donating a car.

“Times are difficult for all of us in the economic downturn, but definitely for some much more so than others,” Miller said. “Now more than ever this fight against poverty must go on. It must continue. We’ve got to band together.”

For information, call CCEB at 510-768-3100.

Hard times hit soup kitchens
and food banks, agencies worry
about drop in donations

The current economic meltdown resulting is beginning to affect nonprofit service providers as well as Catholic schools and parishes in the East Bay. Requests for material assistance and tuition grants are growing, while some parishes report lighter Sunday collections. The economic pinch has impacted some families to such a degree that they are even having trouble paying for their children’s Catholic Youth Organization sports fees, The Voice learned last week.

“It’s getting scary,” said Karen Mangini, principal at St. Agnes School in Concord who has already seen the financial shoe dropping on families. While enrollment has been stable this year, down by only a few students, requests for tuition assistance have nearly doubled. This year Mangini is giving between $100,000-$115,000, as opposed to $60,000 last year in BASIC and other grants. So far, only two families have had to walk away from their mortgaged homes and move into cheaper rental units. “Fortunately, their kids are still with us,” she said.

At St. Joseph School in Pinole an additional 12 families have joined 25 other families who are receiving tuition assistance, said Principal Arlene Marseille.

Marseille has become creative in rounding up tuition money. She has personally asked individuals to sponsor students. “We beg and borrow wherever we can,” she said. One family did transfer its children to a public school, said the principal, but “they have the option to come back here if it doesn’t work out for them.”

Enrollment remains steady at St. Joseph School in Fremont, said Principal Jan Cooper, but there has been a 10 percent increase in requests for tuition assistance. Cooper has been able to cover the cost, thanks to income from school fundraisers for just such purposes. “We are fortunate where we are,” she said. But Cooper worries about what could happen if the economy continues to sour. The specter of “the other shoe” dropping hovers everywhere.

Already there has been a “drastic change” in the numbers of individuals seeking help at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties in Concord, the Souper Center in Richmond, Loaves and Fishes in Central Contra Costa County, and the St. Vincent De Paul Society.

“Our need is up by 20 percent and we’re real nervous,” said Larry Sly, director of the Food Bank. “When I ran the figures yesterday, my mouth flew open,” he admitted. The Food Bank gives away canned goods, rice, pasta and beans at 17 distribution sites throughout the county. The food comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as donations from bakeries and local groceries.

Sly said that “on the anecdotal side, we are seeing people from the construction industry who have never been here before. All of a sudden their jobs are gone and there’s nothing for them.”

Joyce Hutson, program director for the Souper Center, a seven-day a week lunch program sponsored by 39 Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations, reports that her cooks are now serving 5,800 people a month instead of last year’s monthly average of 3,500.

Loaves and Fishes, a five-day a week lunch program at sites in Martinez, Pittsburg, Antioch and Oakley, has seen its meals climb from 2,900 per month last year at this time to 3,455. Katharine Miller, communications and development director for St. Vincent de Paul Society in Alameda County, said the Society’s free dining room in downtown Oakland is seeing more people “especially families showing up for daily meals. This is a real concern to us because many of them have told us they are working families.”

Rick Richardson, director of Loaves and Fishes which has four dining rooms in central Contra Costa, views the upswing in demand as an unhappy development, especially if “fear and trepidation sets in” and donations drop.

Miller said she is hopeful that the holiday season, ordinarily a time of increased giving, will not bring a downturn in financial donations. But material donations such as kitchen tables, couches and beds, are down already, said Lou Cuevas, Vincentian Life director for parish conferences. “People are holding on to their household items,” she said, at the same time that parish conferences are seeing “more requests for furniture, food, and financial help with rental deposits, PG & E, and water bills.”

“It’s been intense over the past few months,” she said, noting that there has been a 45 to 50 percent increase in requests. Since local St. Vincent de Paul groups usually take up a parish collection only on the fifth Sunday or every other month, conferences often have to scale down their budgets until money comes in from the next collection. Donations, she said, can average anywhere from $600 to $3,500 each time a parish takes up a collection.

To help as many people as possible, some well-to-do parish conferences have twinned with inner-city churches. For example, Corpus Christi in Piedmont has twinned with St. Columba and St. Louis Bertrand parishes in Oakland, and St. Theresa Parish in Oakland has teamed with All Saints in Hayward and St. Joseph the Worker in Berkeley.

Results of financial fallout can show up in unexpected places. Bill Ford, diocesan director of CYO athletics and scouting, recently received an e-mail from one of his coaches, reporting that that he has an abundance of families asking for reduction in fees or to have their fees waived. Ford said his athletic directors are sensitive to such problems. “They will try to make arrangements so as not to turn a player away for inability to pay,” he said.

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