By Pamela Seal
Diocese of Lake Charles
The first concern that crossed Sister Miriam MacLean’s mind when she canceled this year’s Jazz Brunch was how Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana was going to adapt to operating with fewer funds. She quickly discovered that she would be working with more money, not less, because of generous donors in the community.
MacLean, a Religious Sister of Mercy and director of Catholic Charities locally, said the major fundraiser brings in between $20,000 and $30,000 annually.
“We still collected around $8,000 from people who had already purchased tickets and chose to donate despite the Jazz Brunch being canceled due to the pandemic,” she said with gratitude. “I thought we would have to cut services and adjust to the fact that we might lose $20,000, which is significant for us. Instead, we have been adjusting to the gift of being able to spend more because of people’s generosity. It’s been amazing.”
Recent donations include $20,000 from Hancock Whitney Bank; $50,000 from The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation; $10,000 from LyondellBasell; $21,487 from the Emergency Food and Shelter Program; $48,618 from Cares Act; $10,000 from Catholic Charities USA Short-term disaster grant; $15,000 provided to CCUSA from The Center for Disaster Philanthropy; and $2,500 from Venture Global. These donations are in addition to the many private donations.
Nathan Jordan, a structural engineer for Peridian Engineering Services, also donated his services valued between $5,000 and $10,000 to do an analysis of the upstairs floor in the warehouse to determine the weight-bearing capacity for storing large volumes of donated canned goods and other food pantry items.
The increase in donations is timely given the increased need for assistance because of people affected by COVID-19. Many who have never been in a position to seek help are turning to Catholic Charities.
Wendy Primeaux, case management supervisor, said the non-profit agency known for its mission of providing for the poor has seen an influx of working people reaching out, with some reluctance, for help with rent and utilities.
“We’ve had people from the medical field, the school system, casino workers, hourly employees, people who work in the service industry or construction industry, especially residential construction,” Primeaux said. “A lot of them were very prideful. They did not want to ask for help. Some came in with their paperwork and were crying.”
Catholic Charities was fortunate to receive some generous grants to be able to help those people who have not been getting paid because of the pandemic.
“Normally, we would not be able to assist these groups of people because they own too many assets, but these grants helped loosen the purse strings,” said Primeaux. Many on the receiving end said they could not express in words how grateful they are. Landlords have even called to offer their appreciation.
For Sister Miriam, one the greatest gifts during the pandemic has been that Catholic Charities is able to remain steady and make its presence known. In April and May, more than $80,000 was distributed by the non-profit ministry serving the parishes of Calcasieu, Beauregard, Cameron, Allen and Jeff Davis.
“It is a privilege for me to see that we are able to respond to the needs of the community in an appropriate, timely way with help (donations) from the community,” she said. “It gives people who are fearful not knowing where their next meal is coming from, wondering if they will be evicted, to know there is help out there.
“It is a reminder that the Church has served the poor for 2,000 years,” she continued. “To be able to participate in that legacy of our faith that we have been given and to know that this is not a time to crumble or to withdraw, but a time to be stronger, to really be Christ’s light and hope in a time when people are afraid. We are trying to give those affected by the loss of income that peace of mind that they are going to be okay until the economy opens back up fully.”
Prior to the pandemic, about 650 households were signed up to receive food assistance. That number has increased by 100 households on a monthly basis. Sister Miriam said she is grateful to the Holy Spirit that she had a sense to keep moving forward.
“I never spend beyond our means, always spending what we have for the poor,” she said. “For me, that has been the lesson during this time. God does provide. The more generous we are, the more generous He is through His people.”
Volunteers from Kiewit Corporation, a construction engineering company that partnered with Catholic Charities in March, recently donated sweat equity by providing supplies and painting all the offices at Catholic Charities as well as donating $2,500 for food assistance.
“For me, it has been beautiful to see how much we can get done,” Sister Miriam said.
Converting the agency’s conference room into a chapel was a bonus during the recent sprucing up around the office. The first Mass was celebrated on June 12 for the staff by Monsignor James Gaddy, pastor of St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church in Big Lake. The handcrafted altar was also a donation.
“The people who come here seeking help are lonely, they are sad, they have troubles,” said Sister Miriam. “We want them to have an opportunity to ask the Lord for His strength. Here in St. Joseph the Worker Chapel, they have that chance to go to the source — the Blessed Sacrament,” she said.
“I always hope through the connections they have with Catholic Charities that they come to believe they are loved by God through our interactions of our love for them.”
For food assistance, visit Catholic Charities from 9 a.m. to noon Monday – Thursday, at 1225 Second Street, Lake Charles. For other assistance including rent, utilities, funerals or medication, call the office on Mondays at 337-439-7436 to apply.
To make a monetary donation, visit www.catholiccharitiesswla.com and click on the Donate Now button, or mail to 1225 Second Street, Lake Charles, LA 70601.
Food donations are accepted between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday – Thursday. If you would like to donate food for the pantry, please consider ordering from their Amazon Wishlist or dropping off cans directly to Catholic Charities, 1225 2nd Street.