One in every five adults in the United States can’t afford to pay bills due at the end of the month, according to a 2018 report by Federal Reserve System. The report also found that 40 percent of Americans would have to borrow money, sell something or not be able to pay, if faced with an emergency expense of $400.
Often to satisfy the unforeseen needs, people will leave “rent, mortgage and utility bills … at least partially unpaid,” according to the Federal Reserve survey.
When such unexpected expenses lead to a rental crises, utility emergencies or food needs for many Americans, Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Wilmington offers Basic Needs services that help people resolve their crises and plan more secure futures. Last year, Catholic Charities’ Basic Needs Program helped more than 16,500 people in Delaware and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland’s nine counties.
Catholic Charities’ Basic Needs service is just one of 37 diocesan programs helped by the Annual Catholic Appeal.
Parishioners who haven’t already committed to contribute to the Appeal can still obtain a pledge card through their parish, or pledge by going to the Appeal’s website at www.cdow.org/annualcatholicappeal or by calling the Diocese of Wilmington’s Development Office at 302-573-3120.
The theme of this year’s Appeal comes from the Gospel of St. John when after Christ washes his Apostle’s feet, he tells them, “As I have done for you, you should also do.”
That role of being a servant to others and helping neighbors in need is at the heart of Catholic Charities’ Basic Needs mission. The program serves the low-income community through rent, mortgage, utility and food assistance, thrift store services, budget counseling assistance and financial literacy help. Basic Needs case managers can also direct clients to other Catholic Charities programs, such as those addressing behavioral health, addiction recovery support and domestic violence services.
Dana Newman, Catholic Charities’ senior program manager for Basic Needs in Delaware, said most people contact Catholic Charities offices — in Wilmington, Dover, Georgetown and at Seton Center in Princess Anne, Md. — with one specific need.
“Generally, people are coming here because they need utility assistance; they need rental assistance; they need permanent housing,” Newman said.
If a client calls about paying a Delmarva bill, Newman said, “they make an appointment with a case manager, then they come in and we do an assessment. We talk to them about utility assistance.
“Then we listen to their entire story,” Newman added. “Once they start talking about what’s going on, then you see the array of needs that they have and, generally it’s pretty severe. So we determine what kinds of services we have in house that can meet those needs.”
For instance, if clients mention that their children haven’t eaten, “we give them a referral for emergency food or get them involved in a food co-op,” Newman said. “If we find out the kids are sleeping on the floor, that means we make a referral to the Thrift Center for a bed or housewares.”
The same assessment of each client’s situation happens at Catholic Charities’ Seton Center in Princess Anne, Md., which provides social services on the Eastern Shore.
Tyantha Giddens Randall, Catholic Charities’ program manager at Eastern Shore social services, has 20 years experience in social services, a master’s degree from Salisbury University and is a LCSW-C (licensed certified social worker-clinical) in Maryland.
“We’re here to fill the gaps to help families become self-sufficient,” said Randall. “Being here at the Seton Center aligns with the reason I went into social work. We assist families and children who are in need.”
At Seton Center, which helped 240 clients with rental assistance in 2018 and provided 3,600 families access to the food pantry last year, “We have five paid staff members and 46 very active volunteers,” Randall said. “We’re small but we’re mighty.”
Just like at other Catholic Charities’ offices, “We look at the person, how they’re managing what sent them to us,” Randall said. “We’re not only meeting the immediate need, we look at ways to help the family eliminate the burden in the future as well.”
Randall said that small financial setbacks “can cause people to get behind, and once they get behind on a limited income, it’s very difficult, sometimes impossible to get caught back up.”
In the Princess Anne area, the number of people who need rental assistance “continues to grow,” Randall said. “We’re seeing a population of more homeless families than we’ve seen before, families living in their cars. We’ve been fortunate that in the past year in Somerset County we now have a local shelter, Lower Shore Shelter in Princess Anne,” where Seton Center can refer homeless cases.
Homelessness is also a concern in Delaware, of course, and Newman, at Catholic Charities in Wilmington, said that 1 in 5 people in Delaware can’t afford to rent a moderately priced home. “There’s a greater rent problem in New Castle County,” he added.
Helping people with such basic needs as shelter, food and utility bills is the main satisfaction Newman takes from his 35-year career in social work. Before starting at Catholic Charities last year, his career spanned working for Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services, youth advocacy, Lutheran Family Service and the Salvation Army.
Newman, a Catholic who grew up one of 13 children in Gesu Parish in Philadelphia, credits his parents’ emphasis on education, family and serving others as inspiring his lifetime’s work.
“I love this work,” Newman said. “Catholic Charities is in the forefront of meeting people’s needs holistically. We’re making an impact on people’s immediate needs, getting them out of crisis mode.”
While Newman has seen some clients persist in behaviors that aren’t helpful, the Basic Needs program manager believes that “no good deed comes back void. At some point those clients are going to see the light. You should see the hope that comes back in their faces,” he said. “They’re 100 percent grateful.”
Catholic Charities’ Basic Needs program can’t take all the credit for successful outcomes, Newman noted. “At times I see God at work; he’s made things happen when I know it wasn’t me.”
At Seton Center, Randall cited her experience growing up on the Virginia Eastern Shore in Accomac, where her family and Macedonia AME Church instilled the Christian values she brings to her life in social work helping the needy.
She recalled a recent success with a client, who “was a recovering addict who relocated to this area with the hope of finding employment. We were able to get him housed in a short period of time. Now he can sustain himself after we provided some assistance.”
There have been so many people and families helped by Catholic Charities’ Seton Center, Randall said. “We gave them hope and encouragement. You can’t put a price on that type of assistance to people in need.”