July 19, 2024

This year has presented us with many challenges, but none has had a greater impact on our lives than COVID-19. It has led to job losses, depression, addiction, loneliness, sickness and for some, death. It’s been a struggle for almost everyone.

As Catholics, these are the times we are moved to action to help our neighbors. Through the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund that has been facilitated by the Catholic Community Foundation for Eastern South Dakota (CCFESD), we have impacted the lives of 644 families with grants ranging from $250 to $500 to help with immediate needs.

Of those who have received funds, nearly 1,200 children have been helped. Parishes in 22 communities across the diocese have received a total of $267,100 in assistance over 28 weeks. Many have stepped up to help ease the burden of their friends and neighbors during a time of real crisis.

The fund came about in a rather organic way according to Kelly Bartmann, who acted as the fund administrator for the CCFESD. She knew God would provide generous donors to help those who needed it.

“We were determined to make a difference by connecting those who wanted to help with those in eastern South Dakota who needed financial help due to COVID-19,” Bartmann said. “We received our first gifts the end of March and made our first distributions through four different parishes by mid-April. There have been grants distributed weekly since then until the funds were depleted with our last distribution on October 27.”

Over the last eight months, stories have poured into CCFESD as grants were made. Priests across the diocese were the first point of contact in most cases. Some of the families in need were dedicated churchgoers. Some were not. None of that mattered. Their church family stepped up to help them.

“The COVID-19 Relief Fund has definitely been an eye opening and humbling part of my job for the past several months,” Bartmann said. “It has been my goal to maintain the ‘personhood’ of each grant recipient as we work through the mechanics of providing some emergency relief as we are able. We also found it helpful to coordinate with Catholic Family Services in a few cases where there have been infants or pregnant moms involved.”

Here are some of the stories of those helped by the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund:

Let’s start with the story from St. Paul Parish in Marty… Father Cathal Gallagher called shortly after the information went out to the parishes letting them know we had emergency funds available. He was at odds how to handle this process because he had so many people in need. We had lengthy discussions during which he explained the sisters he works with there would be the best at understanding the needs of the people of the parish. In the end, Father Gallagher was sent a grant of $5,000 to be distributed as he and the sisters determined. They helped 47 families with that grant money.

Another pastor requested funds for a parishioner who has been dealing with the ongoing costs of a divorce for the last two to three years. She raises her four kids on her own with very little if any financial support from the children’s father. Her employment at a local business supply store was ending, as the store was closing. Finding a new job in this pandemic is a challenge. She definitely needed the support, as she has moved her family to a housing assistance address.

Yet another pastor had a call from a dad who had to stay home to care for his two sons, one 2 years old and one 2 months old, when their mom was sick with COVID and hospitalized for two weeks.

A pastor heard from a grandmother living on a fixed income who is now faced with providing food and shelter for her granddaughter, her nephew and their parents. The local priest was happy he could at least help with some of her increased expenses.

Another had a desperate call from a single mom with five children she adopted when their mother abandoned them. She was laid off for four months and about to choose between paying the rent and feeding her children.

We had a request through our website from a single dad of an 11-year-old son. He fell behind when he lost his job due to the pandemic and now had the fuel pump go out on his car. He found a job but was short $500 on his rent. He said, “I’ve never had to ask for a handout in my 36 years, but I’m in desperate need of some help to get back on my feet.” We connected him with a local parish to receive a grant and received a very heartfelt expression of his thanks, “Thank you so much! I am beyond grateful for your help! I grew up Catholic but for years have only made it to church on Christmas Eve and Easter. I am so thankful my church is still willing to help me.”

CCFESD is grateful to the pastors who heard the call from their parishioners and took time to help them in their difficult hour. Although the Fund is currently depleted, CCFESD is open to accepting donations any time to continue to help those in need due to the pandemic. If you’d like to make a donation, visit www.ccfesd.org.