Deacon Steve Pareja: Together we can make a different tomorrow

IN THE MIDST OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud is called more than ever to serve Christ as we serve those in need, for the Son of Man said, “Whatsoever you did for the least of my brothers [and sisters], you did for me.” (c.f. Matthew 25:40). We serve whoever needs to be lifted up regardless of gender, race, faith tradition, country of origin, or any other differentiator. Not only do we feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but we do so much more.

By Deacon Steve Pareja

Many are familiar with Catholic Charities Emergency Services Food Shelf. But few are familiar with the breadth of programs that are offered within the diocese. Most of our programs have continued to operate during the pandemic; however, some have needed to modify hours or how the services are delivered. For example, the Emergency Services Food Shelf has been modified from a full choice model to a food distribution model. Instead of clients choosing their own selection from the shelves, bags and boxes are pre-packed and distributed to clients. This is in order to minimize face-to-face contact, thereby protecting clients, employees and volunteers from the spread of the virus. We have also increased the utilization of our Mobile Food Shelf.

Our Senior Dining program has temporarily closed congregate dining sites and we have increased our Meals on Wheels delivery as well as increasing our frozen meals to the senior population. The Behavioral Health Clinic has modified their service delivery model by offering telehealth appointments to minimize in-person contact, but will still offer in-office visits as necessary. Catholic Charities also provides contracted services to Pathways for Youth, which has had to modify its hours in order to maintain a healthy environment for homeless youth.

Catholic Charities has several programs dedicated to school-aged clients who may suffer from childhood trauma resulting in behavioral issues and other diagnoses. We also manage a Foster Grandparent Program where “grandparents” work within school classrooms providing support to teachers by helping students with reading, math, homework and other special projects. Many of these programs are partnered with area public and parochial school districts, so when the schools closed, these programs were suspended. Once Governor Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order and other travel restrictions are lifted, these programs will resume with modifications.

Many of Catholic Charities’ programs remain unaltered during these unprecedented times. We operate a number of group homes that serve residents with persistent mental illness and developmental disabilities. We own several transitional housing sites that focus on women overcoming addiction, women with children who are overcoming addiction and a home focused on housing veterans. We also run the Youth House, a transitional home for homeless youth. Lastly, Catholic Charities owns and manages several affordable housing complexes across the diocese providing housing for low-income individuals and families. All of these residents depend on us to provide uninterrupted service during these challenging times.

I believe it is also accurate to say that Catholic Charities is serving us. Across the country, we are seeing historic unemployment rates and a struggling economy. While most of Catholic Charities’ programs were deemed “essential services” by Governor Walz’s Executive Order 20-20, we can only operate within the resources available to the organization. By maintaining as many programs and services as possible during this pandemic, we are also providing jobs, health care coverage and other benefits to the nearly 400 employees of the organization along with their families. I have said that my personal goal is to keep as many employees working through this crisis so that our employees don’t become our clients. “For even the Son of Man came to serve, not to be served.” (c.f. Mark 10:45)

Thus far, we have been blessed with donations and support by so many individuals, organizations, groups and businesses who have given of their treasures to support our mission. We are grateful for the relief funding within the Congress’ Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Without these donations and revenue streams, we would not be able to continue the work that God has called us to do.

Even during this chaotic time, Catholic Charities recognizes that we are blessed to serve in a community that supports the community. Our tagline sums it up: “Together we can make a different tomorrow!”

DEACON STEVE PAREJA is the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

Author: The Central Minnesota Catholic

The Central Minnesota Catholic is the magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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