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Stimulus check donations would be welcomed by Maryland charities dealing with pandemic-related demands

As the latest federal stimulus checks hit bank accounts, charitable organizations are hoping recipients whose incomes were unscathed during the pandemic will donate funds to support those who have been hit by unemployment, reduced wages and medical crises.

St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore and various programs of the Archdiocese of Baltimore have seen dramatic increases in the need for assistance since the COVID-19 pandemic ground many parts of the economy to a halt.

Even as the job market recovers somewhat, the agencies continue to have high demand, which they expect to continue for some time, and even worsen as protections against evictions eventually end. So, they’re offering easy ways for people to donate their stimulus payments – to parishes, schools, food pantries or social services providers.

For example, Terry Brashears, senior director of development for the archdiocese, said that while some parishes have been financially stable through the pandemic, others are struggling financially, as parishioners lost their jobs and their ability to contribute.

“Larger, economically stable parishes have been fine,” she said. “Some in smaller cities, in rural areas or in parishes with large immigrant and minority populations where people lost their jobs didn’t have a way to make up for the losses.”

Nationwide, millions of people lost their jobs and millions more faced reduced hours and other cuts to their income in the last year. Maryland’s unemployment rate jumped from 3.3 percent in January 2020 to 10.1 percent that April. By February 2021 the state rate had settled at 6.2 percent.  The highest rates of unemployment in Maryland are in Worcester County, (11 percent), Baltimore City, (8 percent), Somerset County (7.9 percent) and Prince George’s County (7.5 percent). 

Volunteers bag lunches at Our Daily Bread Employment Center in Baltimore during the early weeks of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Catholic Charities)

As jobs evaporated, Catholic Charities of Baltimore and St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore saw demand spike with requests for help providing food, paying bills, getting health care and various types of social services.

Jennifer Lavella, director of marketing and communications for St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, said the organization provided assistance continuously through the last year, despite the complications of pandemic restrictions.

That included providing more than 150,000 “bed nights” at its four shelters in Baltimore City and County, distributing more than 1.5 million meals through hundreds of community sites and offering housing for 1,000 households, Lavella said. The society also provided help for families to participate in remote learning for young children and an array of other types of assistance in finding jobs and dealing with emergency financial needs, she said.

Lillian Burke, senior director of development operations for Catholic Charities of Baltimore, told the Review that demand for all kinds of services spiked in the last year. That included accommodating a surge in use of the Telehealth system for counseling.

“We know that Telehealth has been a literal lifesaver over the last year and have invested in the tools that allow us to see more patients virtually,” Burke told the Review. “We have seen a higher rate of individuals and families keeping their appointments because of that access, which means overall better health outcomes.”

Catholic Charities had to reconfigure the Head Start program for remote learning and to use its network as a way of distributing food. Pandemic limitations also meant reimagining the way meals are provided at Our Daily Bread, which traditionally provides hot meals in a dining room, relying on a system of parishes providing casseroles that are reheated for serving.

“They had to pivot,” Burke said, due to restrictions on how food is prepared and served. “They had to go to box meals.”

Donations to Catholic Charities may be made online. The form allows establishing a recurring gift and to make the donation a tribute to someone.

Neither Burke nor Lavella provided details of how their agencies’ finances fared in the pandemic’s first year, but both said they benefited from some increases in donations.

“In April of 2020 we definitely saw an increase in support,” said Burke. While there’s no way of tracking the source of the funds being donated, “it was about the time the first stimulus payments went out. We had both financial and in-kind donations.” Examples of the latter included face masks, hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment, she said.

“That speaks to the compassion of people,” she said. Catholic Charities sent out a special appeal last year to new potential donors, which got a good rate of response, she said. “We were able to cover our budget.”

Jill M. Pioter, national director of marketing and communications for the National Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said that nationally donations to the society were up significantly. Online donations increased by 25-30 percent, enabling the national organization to greatly increase grants to local food banks, she said.

“Some local conferences said the need was greater than ever,” Pioter said. Donations to St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore can be made online. The form allows donors to designate their contributions to a particular program or to wherever the greatest need lies.

Brashears said the pandemic-forced shift to parishes accepting online donations has helped keep finances on track for many parishes. But for others, donations of stimulus funds could be crucial to helping them survive.

Those who may want to donate to support their own church or another parish can designate that through the archdiocese of Baltimore online giving page, Brashears said. The page allows donations to be designated to a specific parish as well as other archdiocesan fundraising initiatives, such as the Catholic Community Foundation, which provides grants to parishes, schools and ministries. 

A report, “COVID-19 Impact on Parish Collections” by the Villanova Center for Church Management at Villanova University, surveyed 169 parishes nationwide to gauge how their finances fared in the last year. Overall, it found a 7 percent decrease in parish collections, although 32 parishes reported increases or no change. Fifty-seven of the parishes reported declines of at least 10 percent. 

The report said 80 percent of the parishes studied received Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal government, which kept people employed and supported parish operations. It projected that over the next year that if the rate of decreased contributions continues, parish collections will be down nationwide by 24 percent.

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