Catholic Charities Report
Pictured Above: A resident of Mt. Carmel Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Manchester enjoys a friendly visit. (Courtesy photo)
Catholic Charities NH Brings Its Healing Touch to the COVID-19 Crisis
The year 2020 was bound to be memorable for Catholic Charities New Hampshire. It planned a year of events celebrating its 75th anniversary that kicked off with an Ice Ball gala, only to have everything halted as the novel coronavirus took hold across the state shortly thereafter. How did CCNH respond? Just as it has for 75 years: by imitating Christ through its tireless efforts to heal, comfort and empower those most in need. Here, in their own words, are the reflections of three people on CCNH’s efforts.
Tom Blonski, President and CEO, Catholic Charities NH
As things began shutting down, our work escalated very quickly. Since many people we serve are on the margins and don’t have a lot to sustain them, we knew we would have to help address sudden new vulnerabilities. We developed our Emergency Crisis Fund to help meet essential daily needs. We also worked with one of our well-known programs, the NH Food Bank, to ensure that we were producing, preparing and distributing adequate supplies of nutritious food to the hardest-hit areas of the state. Our Place began group teleconferencing sessions with clients and provided increased access to diapers, formula and wipes. Our CareGivers and Monadnock at Home programs continued with food delivery for the elderly in Greater Manchester, Nashua and Peterborough. We also set up a volunteer network to make weekly comfort calls to see how seniors were faring. Before this, some told us they hadn’t had contact with anyone from the outside for several weeks. These calls provided a lifeline to the community.
Of course, keeping people safe at our nursing facilities has been our number one worry. It’s required a daily multi-pronged effort: working diligently to adhere to infection control protocols, trying to manage staff retention/remuneration, and securing enough PPE materials for them. It’s been disheartening to hear some people’s eagerness to get the economy going while disregarding the culture of life and the need to care for the most vulnerable in these communities.
The things that have kept me going are prayer and exercise. My wife and I have been going through the St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises at St. Michael’s in Exeter and there couldn’t have been a better time for this. After a couple of especially difficult days recently, someone sent me a quote from 2 Chronicles that changed my perspective: “Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” I really felt God saying, “Leave this to me, this is my battle, I got this.”
NH Food Bank volunteers and staff load food into vehicles. (Photo by Tom Roy)
Rev. John J. Mahoney, Jr., JCL, Director of Counseling Services
By the third week in March, my counseling team and I became aware that this pandemic would disrupt the strong relationships we had with our clients. We began to brainstorm how to maintain continuity of care. In less than a week, we established telehealth services for our clients, which, though not perfect, have worked very well.
We usually receive six to eight applications for counseling services a week. By the end of April, that number was significantly higher. We’re seeing lots of anxiety, depression and isolation. Everyone is feeling loss: loss of direction, jobs, socialization, security and certainty. We are trying to help people stand right side up in a world that is upside down. This means accepting that we can’t control the bigger picture, but we can control how we respond to it. We’re dealing with lots of relationship issues. Families are sequestered, tensions are running high. Work is often a distraction from the regular dysfunction of life and when you subtract work, other parts of relationships are strained. Also, alcohol and drugs tend to isolate their prey, so people in isolation are at much higher risk of relapse. Keeping them connected to a support group is literally a matter of life and death.
I’m very protective of the counseling team. We support one another spiritually and stay on guard for compassion fatigue. During the Lent and Easter seasons, we learn that while we suffer, Christ is always with us. There is redemption at the end of the story. Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, with their hope renewed, they could go on. This is a good message for our clients, and also one for us to hold onto ourselves.
Marc Cousineau, Director of Parish & Community Services
When we realized the severity of the economic situation, we knew it would affect lots of people. The first wave of people who came to us were the very poor – the same people we care for 365 days a year. Closed shelters and changed food pantry operations made life extraordinarily difficult for people for whom life already was extraordinarily difficult. We’re responding to requests for basic life needs, making assurance calls, dealing with issues of isolation and domestic violence. We’ve restructured our emergency relief policy to make it more flexible and generous. This is the work of the Church day-in and day-out, whether there’s a crisis or not.
Because of the faith component of our lives and CCNH, we have been praying for one another and we have talked about the need to pray more than ever. We have to have that rock. It’s always been part of our work lives, but it’s needed now more than ever to be able to keep moving forward.