Diocese of Lake Charles
Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana remains faithful in its efforts to hear the cry of the poor and assist them in times of need.
“Our services meet the basic needs of people, especially with food and shelter,” said Sister Miriam MacLean, R.S.M., Director of Catholic Charities and Secretary for the Ministry of Pastoral Services.
Now these good works are reaching even more people because of funds received through the recent Return to the Lord Capital Campaign in the Diocese of Lake Charles, in addition to grant money and generous donors.
“We have increased our food distribution sites to Sacred Heart Catholic Church Life Center in Creole and St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church in Big Lake while continuing to serve individuals and families at our Lake Charles site.”
One of the goals of the capital campaign when it was launched in 2016 was to expand the services of Catholic Charities. A total of $800,000 was allocated to enhance the Diocesan Social Ministry Program.
As an extension of Catholic Charities USA, each Catholic Charities in dioceses across the United States all share a common goal: to provide services to people in need, to advocate for justice in social structures, and to call the entire church and other people of good will to do the same.
“We are small compared to some Catholic Charities throughout the United States, but we are still a valuable service to the community of Southwest Louisiana,” Sister Miriam said. “We are always trying to get the word out that we are here to assist the five civil parishes of Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron and Jefferson Davis.”
Sister Miriam emphasized the importance of making sure the poor — whether they are Catholic or not — know they are not forgotten.
For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore, I command you, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor in your land.” — Deuteronomy 15:11
A focus in recent years has been expanding services to the five-parish area, she said, and extra funds have allowed more people to receive assistance. The purchase of a 26-foot refrigerated truck in June 2019 is already proving useful to better serve surrounding parishes.
In addition to food banks and emergency rental/mortgage assistance, other types of services offered include assistance with utilities, funeral expenses, prescription medication, identification cards, birth certificates, medical transportation, disaster operations, English language classes, and referrals for other resources.
Many church parishes already have something in place to help those in crisis. Sister Miriam assures those facing a hardship that Catholic Charities works in conjunction with churches to ensure the needs of the poor are met.
“We are working with some churches to see where we might be able to increase our food distribution locations,” she said. “We have quarterly social ministry meetings where we meet with people in the church parishes who work with the poor to let them know about the resources we provide. It’s a beautiful way to be in collaboration with the churches.”
While homeless prevention, food and utility assistance are primary services provided by Catholic Charities, they also help victims of disasters through its Long-Term Disaster Recovery Program. Improvements to the ministry’s warehouse have advanced this effort through increased storage capacity.
Sister Miriam said people are in great distress after their home is ruined. It is very disorienting and difficult for them, especially when they are already lacking in basic needs. “In recent years we have provided a lot of disaster assistance following the 2016 floods, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Barry,” she said.
“We spent around $130,000 with the help of Community Foundation and United Way in bringing relief to those affected in Oberlin last summer after Hurricane Barry,” she continued.
Catholic Charities also responded after a tornado destroyed several homes in Beauregard Parish this past December.
“As it turned out, our help wasn’t needed, but it was a beautiful experience to be with the people,” recalls Sister Miriam. “Many asked if we would pray with them. You get the sense that the Church is present to them. To me, that is one of the greatest gifts. I like to be able to go out to see the people to let them know that the Lord loves them. That’s why we are here.”
Sister Miriam credits donors and volunteers with making it possible for Catholic Charities to carry the burdens of the unemployed and low-wage workers, the elderly, and the forgotten among us.
Funds for Catholic Charities is provided in a number of ways: 32 percent from diocesan collections and contributions; 22 percent from private donations; 20 percent from general grants; 11 percent from grants that can only be used for residents in Calcasieu Parish; 11 percent from grants provided specifically to aid individuals in Allen, Beauregard, Cameron and Jefferson Davis parishes; and 4 percent from the annual Jazz Brunch fundraiser.
“I am so grateful for the generosity of the community which allows this work to happen,” she said. “It is all through the donations and the volunteers that we are able to keep our costs as low as possible so that we can serve as many people with all of the funds that we receive.”
Sister Miriam also noted the past several years have been unique in that a $2 million three-year grant through Catholic Charities USA greatly subsidized disaster efforts along with funds from community partners.
Catholic Charities and stewardship go hand in hand as people donate their time and talent. Primarily, close to 100 volunteers run the diocesan ministry on a regular basis. There is no shortage of the ways volunteering can make a difference when reaching out to others.
“We couldn’t do what we do without volunteers,” Sister Miriam said. “A lot of them help with food distribution. Some are here every day keeping the warehouse going, taking incoming donations, cleaning up and stocking things. Volunteers help with some of the case work for giving out utility assistance, air-conditioners and heaters.
“Volunteers can also help by hosting food drives at places of employment or through churches. Extra volunteers are always needed during the holidays to help with food baskets for senior citizens.”
Sister Miriam said she is in the process of forming a volunteer program to be able to do scheduling with clearly defined roles and jobs. This will allow for more effective communication between the staff and the volunteers.
Aside from tending to people’s material needs, Sister Miriam hopes to have some office space at Catholic Charities repurposed into a chapel within the next calendar year. The chapel, she said, would serve as an opening to fill the spiritual poverty many people possess.
“Yes, we are giving material food for sustenance, but the Lord is the food of eternal life that doesn’t pass away,” she said. “It’s an important piece. We do care about spiritual needs as well as physical needs.”
CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The staff and volunteers at Catholic Charities are working hard to ensure continuity of operations given the restrictions due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Southwest Louisiana. So far, the office has been able to remain open, and the staff continues to help people with rent, utilities, medication, funerals, etc. Should the office need to close, calls will be forwarded and assistance will continue to be offered. Donations are welcome and may be sent to Catholic Charities, 1225 Second Street, Lake Charles, LA 70601 or by going to catholiccharitiesswla.com and clicking on the Donate Now button. Anyone needing assistance or those wanting to volunteer may call Catholic Charities at 337-439-7436 Monday-Friday. Food donations will be accepted between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
CATHOLIC CHARITIES BY THE NUMBERS
According to Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana, more than 3,500 persons were assisted in 2019, and a total of $859,595.49 was given in assistance to the civil parishes of Calcasieu, Allen, Beauregard, Cameron and Jefferson Davis. Some of the services and assistance provided includes:
- Rent/Mortgage Assistance/Homelessness Prevention Program: $128,543.27; total assisted: 275
- Utility Assistance: $74,415.61; total assisted: 267
- Funeral Assistance: $13,660; total assisted: 70
- “Beat the Heat” air-conditioning program: $19,765.00; total assisted: 155
- Prescription Assistance: $6,047.25; total assisted: 67
- Adopt a Senior/Head Start Child Christmas Project: $5,830
- Transportation Assistance: $1,643.83; total assisted: 221
- Employment/IDAssistance: $28,555.83;total assisted: 258
- Food Assistance: $577,041; total assisted: 2,180
- Debbie Warshaw Fund Assistance: $4,093.70; total assisted: 8
Disaster Assistance has continued to be given for the 2016/2017 floods, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Barry. An estimated 168 persons were assisted and a total of $704,812.48 has been given in disaster assistance. Catholic Charities continues to help the victims of these disasters to recover through its Long-Term Disaster Recovery Program.
Source: Charity Tracker