Contributors Inside Catholic Charities

Pandemic required Charities to get both agile and creative

Lauren Solidum is the executive director of Catholic Charities.

by Lauren Solidum

“Do not be afraid. God is with you. You were born for this.” — St. Joan of Arc

Keeping the ministries of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas (CCNEK) operating through a pandemic has been challenging!

With the health of our team in question, a dramatic decrease in our volunteer workforce and community food needs that felt beyond our capacity, the Holy Spirit quickly reminded us that a storm is often a beautifully masked opportunity to serve our neighbors in need. And we went to work.

Employee health, food distribution, emergency shelter, Catholic Community Hospice and TurnStyles Thrift have been our priorities since mid-March. It has been a time to become both agile and creative.

We could not open our pantry doors to the public, so outdoor food distribution became a reality at each of our family support centers.

We utilized technology to leverage virtual case management and financial education classes for those in need, and we even started our Kids Summer Food Program three months early so that the children who relied on free or reduced cost lunches during the school year would not go hungry.

I am proud to share a few of the ways our agency has had an impact during COVID-19:

Food assistance. Eighty-eight tons of food (roughly 50 tons the prior year) have been distributed through our monthly mass food distributions in Olathe and Kansas City, Kansas, impacting 1,565 families (7,773 individuals) in need.

Kids meals. 70,336 meals (roughly 12,000 the prior year) were distributed to children at 18 sites throughout our archdiocese, including a brand-new partnership with seven housing projects in Kansas City, Kansas.

Asset development (family financial transformations/Kansas Loan Pool Project/Cents @ Work). 357 financial case management appointments and seven virtual financial education classes were conducted to help individuals and families manage their finances and unexpected hardships through these difficult times.  

Workforce development (St. Rita/Employment Services). Nineteen new participants enrolled in our St. Rita skills training program since March 1 — more than double the number of students we had in the first two year’s cohorts. During this same period, St. Rita has graduated 15 participants within the areas of nursing and skilled trades.

To date, eight have already been connected to new job opportunities. Our St. Rita educational partnerships now include programming at Kansas City Kansas Community College, Johnson County Community College, Donnelly College and the University of Saint Mary.

I am overwhelmed by the generosity of our community and inspired by the willingness and fortitude of our employees and those volunteers choosing to serve side by side with us during the pandemic.

The pandemic continues to tell a critical story of the necessity that is Catholic Charities within our archdiocese. It has reaffirmed our purpose and mission and, perhaps most importantly, it has inspired many to enact their faith through service to our organization. Thanks be to God.

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Lauren Solidum

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