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One of the most pressing issues that joins Catholic nonprofits with Catholic funders in shared mission is inspired by Jesus’ message in Matthew 25:40, “…whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Prior to the global pandemic, 2018 data from Poverty USA painted a grim picture:

  • More than 38 million Americans live in poverty;
  • About 1 in every 6 children lives in poverty;
  • More than 1.5 million children experience homelessness in a year;
  • An estimated 14.3 million households struggle with food insecurity.
 

The Catholic Funding Guide serves as a vital resource to connect Catholic organizations working to alleviate poverty with the Catholic funders who want to partner with them. Many of the Guide’s subscribers are members of the largest social service agency in the nation, Catholic Charities USA. One of the Guide’s funders is a significant supporter of Catholic Charities members. The story that follows demonstrates the impact when subscribers and funders connect.

Catholic Charities Operating “Non-stop”

As the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the hardships of individuals and families, thousands of Catholic Charities agencies across the country continued to serve those in need. For more than 110 years Catholic Charities has been committed to alleviate, reduce and prevent poverty through service to all people regardless of their religious, social, or economic backgrounds. The agency estimates that one in ten persons living at or below the federal poverty guidelines are served each year by Catholic Charities affiliates.

During a recent meeting with Catholic funders, Sister Donna Markham OP, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA shared that the pandemic has prompted their network of 3,000 agencies to focus “almost entirely on emergency needs,” as they address increased challenges with food insecurity, mental health and addiction, and an “eviction tsunami” with thousands of people in danger of losing their homes. Sister Donna expressed the importance of their community partners that have responded to increased demands, such as the farmers and suppliers working directly with charitable food pantries, and partnerships in the technology and philanthropy sectors collaborating to connect social workers with clients virtually. “Our centers have been operating non-stop through the pandemic,” shared Sister Donna. “No one has closed their doors.”

Navigating Virtual School Without a Home

Photos courtesy of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa

In California’s Sonoma County, the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa serves as the difference between hundreds of parents and children sleeping in a bed or on the sidewalk. Their 138-bed Family Support Center provides a respite for parents and children from newborn to age 18. When the pandemic prompted the area’s schools to move to remote learning, the center’s 70 school-age children and parents were faced with the challenge of managing virtual learning from the homeless shelter. The center’s staff sprung to action and created a “distance learning hub” in the Family Support Center where student residents could access safe, socially-distant study areas outfitted with donated computers and volunteer tutors. The center’s attention to the needs of the students was also appreciated by the parents, who were feeling the extra stress of managing the educational needs of their children with their own efforts to secure permanent housing. “Many of our parents may not have been blessed with opportunities to complete their own education, so it was difficult for them to help their kids,” shared Jennielynn Holmes, Chief Program Officer for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa. She credits the responsiveness of their staff as well as their donors for supporting the effort, which also required the center to enhance their infrastructure to improve internet access.

In addition to addressing the emergency needs of families, the agency provides services to help families prevent homelessness and actively advocates in the community for more affordable housing. Their work became more difficult last fall when wildfires in Sonoma County devastated the community, wiping out 5% of the housing stock and displacing thousands of residents. “Our goal is to build back better,” explained Holmes, “and we have great community partners supporting that effort.” The agency’s community support and collaborations have led to successful outcomes, as evidenced by placing 864 individuals in permanent housing last year. 

One of the organizations that has faithfully supported the agency is the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities. Since 1996, the Raskob Foundation has provided a dozen grants and more than $170,000 for programs to alleviate poverty, including housing, food assistance, immigrant citizenship programs and wildfire relief efforts. The foundation has supported the Family Support Center since 2018.  

Connecting Catholic Funders with Catholic Organizations

The Catholic Funding Guide has helped many organizations like the Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa discover Catholic funders like the Raskob Foundation who are interested in supporting their mission. Pamela Swan, Director of Funding Partnerships, said their agency considers the Guide a “go-to” resource and appreciates the “timely and insightful source of the country’s foundations and funders that support organizations that foster Catholic Social Teaching.”

“The ability to provide basic needs – food, clothing and shelter – is something near and dear to our hearts.”

Lois Greco, Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities

The Raskob Foundation has supported Catholic ministries in the U.S. and globally since 1945, with eligibility for grant applications limited to organizations listed in the Kenedy Directory of Official Catholic Organizations. The independent, private family foundation is currently supported by five generations of family members who serve as board members to perpetuate the vision of the foundation’s founders, John and Helena Raskob. “Our board is committed to being responsive to the needs of our grantees,” shared Lois Greco, Program and Grants Officer for the foundation. “The ability to provide basic needs – food, clothing and shelter – is something near and dear to our hearts.” Greco shared that the foundation benefits from multiple generations sharing wisdom and perspectives on issues from around the country. The foundation’s portfolio of responsive grants has been called their “docket of goodness,” as it represents how the foundation works to fulfill goodness for humanity.

A notable example of this is the Raskob Foundation’s significant investment in multiple Catholic Charities’ programs across the country – more than 12% of all 2019 domestic grants were awarded to programs at Catholic Charities agencies in 17 states.

Ensuring the Best Start for New Parents and Babies

Photos courtesy of Catholic Charities East Tennessee

The generosity of the Raskob Foundation extends from the wine country of Santa Rosa to the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Tennessee, where the Catholic Charities of East Tennessee operates five locations throughout the geographically diverse region. The Raskob Foundation has supported the agency’s Pregnancy Help Center through the “Earn While you Learn” program with multiple grants since 2011. The program provides services to couples and individuals who are navigating the varied challenges of pregnancy and parenthood. For every class completed, clients earn material items, like car seats and diapers, which promotes responsibility, builds self-esteem and self-sufficiency. 

When the pandemic caused schools and businesses to physically close and move to remote operations, the “Earn While You Learn” program followed suit and moved their in-person classes to a fully online program. The Pregnancy Help Center’s Program Leader, Sandi Davidson, shared that in the early days of the pandemic their center was one of the few programs that was still in operation. “Many of our moms rely on us every week for diapers and wipes,” she explained. “We wanted to ensure that there were no disruptions to our services.” To continue providing the needed baby items, the center offered curb-side pickup options or shipped the items directly to the homes of participants.

Since many of the agency’s clients live in rural areas and may not have regular access to transportation, the transition to the online program allowed for increased access to services. “One of the positive effects of the pandemic,” shared Program Director Paul Ritter, “is we have been able to serve more people overall, and have expanded services in areas where we have not served before.”

“Acquiring grants for rural programs can be challenging. The Catholic Funding Guide helped us connect with the Raskob Foundation – our best match so far."

Paul Ritter, Catholic Charities of East Tennessee

In addition to supporting the immediate needs of mothers and babies the program offers educational courses in life skills, such as money management and interview preparation, to help families gain financial stability. “Some of our clients have returned to us with a second pregnancy, but many are in a better place financially. They come back for the classes but are not in need of supplies,” shared Davidson.

Ritter noted that acquiring grants to support rural programs can be challenging. The agency’s subscription to the Catholic Funding Guide helped them discover the Raskob Foundation, which led to $160,000 in funding over the past decade. “We generally use the Catholic Funding Guide to search for funders several times a year,” noted Ritter. “The Raskob Foundation has been the best match we have found so far.”

Partners in Mission

Much work remains in the cause to alleviate poverty, and as the Catholic Church and its ministries continue to respond to the increased challenges of the pandemic, the support of Catholic funders is in greater demand. The Catholic Funding Guide is one resource that can help, by connecting Catholic organizations with more than 2,000 funders in the Catholic philanthropic community.

These connections are the key to keeping the doors open for Catholic Charities and many other organizations across the country as they strive to answer the Gospel call of Jesus.

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