January 6th, 2021
Within days of the state’s shutdown orders, the number of people coming forward to Merton Center in Bridgeport and New Covenant Center in Stamford tripled—and that was just the beginning of the demand for service.
Donoghue, who retired from a successful Wall Street career in finance and investment, was no stranger to the non-profit world. He made sure to carve time out of his busy work schedule to volunteer in soup kitchens, serve on boards and give back to the community, but he walked into a crisis of historic proportions.
“It has been a real interesting, challenging and invigorating year. I was just getting settled in and a sense of the organization before the void hit and so many things had to be done at once. This is our super bowl,” says Donoghue who along with his Catholic Charities team has more than risen to the challenge.
Priority number one was feeding the people who were suddenly jobless and hungry and were turning to Catholic Charities in record numbers soup kitchens for help.
Beyond dealing with the surging demand for meals and take-home groceries, Donoghue had to contend with the loss of the hundreds of volunteers who could no longer safely work at the nutrition sites. Many were elderly or semi-retired and at greatest risk for complications from the virus—which put incredible demand on the small professional staff.
The staff also had to deal with the challenge of moving all food serving operations outside in order to protect guests and observe appropriate social distancing with the long lines that were forming.
At the same time, many people were struggling with a depression and anxiety that escalated into the need for counseling and behavioral health services. Many poor and working families in particular had nowhere else to turn and relied on Catholic Charities, the largest private service agency in Fairfield County, for professional health, he said.
Donoghue, a Dartmouth graduate and parishioner of St. Thomas More Parish in Darien, said he has witnessed first-hand how tough the pandemic has been on the people least able to protect themselves and their children. Many are service workers who immediately lost their jobs in restaurants, hotels, and domestic settings. Some had to make the choice between paying rent or buying food.
He said the hardest hit group has been recent immigrants—many of whom are Catholics and members of parishes in Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk and Danbury. They pay taxes but do not qualify for many government service and as a result are very vulnerable
Holding it all together has been a staff of 130 people at work in 30 programs throughout Fairfield County, and Donoghue said he is incredibly proud of the work done being done by his staff under difficult conditions.
“We have a small but really dedicated team of employees at these facilities and they’ve been incredible. They’ve been running into the fire every day since pandemic started. While we were sequestered at home tying to be safe, they’ve put themselves at risk show up every day to feed the homeless, deliver meals to seniors, reach people on the streets through our Homeless outreach team and provide case management and housing service.”
Although the challenges are historic, Donoghue said he has been sustained by the commitment of his staff to mission and the generosity of donors at all levels.
For example, many volunteers who could no longer safely work in the soup kitchens began making sandwiches and preparing food at home, which they could safely drop off at lunch time. And parishes came to the rescue by conducting their own food drives and partnering with Catholic Charities to feed the hungry.
Donoghue said that he has been overwhelmed by the generosity of large and small donors who have stepped up with direct financial support and by giving to the Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA). While the pandemic taken a bite out of traditional fund raisers, the agency has been creative with virtual events and has also benefitted from contributions that have significantly helped to narrow what he feared would be a $2 million budget gap in the crisis.
Donoghue said he’s grateful to all those who have supported the work of Catholic Charities, and he believes that many people across the diocese would be pleased to know how much good work is done in the name of the Catholic Church.
“It’s a collaborative effort by a tremendous number of people. Certainly Catholics around the diocese should be proud of our work—a lot of people of all faiths working together for one purpose to help the least of our brothers and sisters through a really difficult time.”
By Brian D. Wallace – As published in Fairfield County Catholic
An Eagle Lands Just In Time at Room to Grow
December 17th, 2020
NORWALK – No one could have predicted how timely Kevin Lindwall’s Eagle project would be for the Room to Grow Preschool’s Food Pantry. Director Nancy Owens had tasked her Advisory Board with the mission to save money for building out industrial sized cabinets in one of the preschool’s meeting rooms to make room for their new Food Pantry, but as luck would have it board member Mary Ann Lindwall’s son Kevin was facing challenges of his own with his original Eagle Scout project. Mary Ann suggested Kevin pivot the project to Room to Grow’s cabinets and food pantry buildout.
Room to Grow had considered leveraging builders for custom cabinets, but the quotes they were receiving neared $15,000. Every dollar Room to Grow saved on the build out could be used to buy groceries to stock the new Food Pantry and feed the center’s families. Room to Grow’s Advisory Board Chair Tom Van Riper knew Kevin was up to the task. “Kevin comes from a long line of Lindwall builders in Fairfield County,” states Van Riper. “I knew he was up to the task and supported Kevin making the Food Pantry for Room to Grow as his Eagle Scout project. It was a win-win for all involved.”
The project entailed creating a new storage room for the Room to Grow teaching staff supplies in order to turn the old storage room into a food pantry for the families of the students. Kevin led a team of 12 workers, ranging from youth to adults, with a mix of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who devoted over a combined 100 hours.
No one at Room to Grow realized how lifesaving their little food pantry would become! Room to Grow’s original plan was to open the pantry sometime in the late spring … then Covid happened. Room to Grow had to shut down the pre-school for what Owens thought would be 2 weeks. “Three months later we reopened and the children started to return slowly with all of the necessary precautions in place,” states Owens. “When Room to Grow closed in March, we had 132 families. We currently have 91 families enrolled due to impact of the pandemic.”
One week into the preschool’s shutdown, the families were seeking help. Many of the working class families impacted by the pandemic had lost their jobs. They couldn’t afford to put food on their tables. The staff of Room to Grow sprang into action to meet their needs and help support them. Overnight the Room to Grow Preschool Food Pantry opened. The staff started by distributing all of their snack foods, cleaning out the closets and freezers; distributing all the items that would have been used to feed the children if they were attending school. During the second week of shut down, the generosity of a couple of previous donors helped to fill the shelves and Room to Grow began weekly Food Pantry distributions on March 27th, which ran for the next 23 weeks until all funds were exhausted.
During this time the preschool served anywhere from 43 to 72 families, which included a 105 to 172 children. Room to Grow sourced food for the pantry and funding through a variety of ways including, but not limited to, the City of Norwalk’s School lunch program, a philanthropic foundation that has continued to support Room to Grow, Al’s Angels, Filling In The Blanks, and a grant from the Point72 Employee Giving Foundation.
Room to Grow Preschool is a program of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County which has provided an affordable pre-school option for working families in Norwalk for the past 25 years. Room to Grow is a State licensed and Nationally Accredited preschool facility that provides high quality care and education for children ages 3 to 5 years old who reside in Norwalk, Connecticut. The facility capacity is 83 children; all grant funded through a School Readiness grant which requires that you are a resident of the City of Norwalk. These spots are available on a sliding fee scale based on family income.
Written by Tom Van Riper, Edited by Amy Zajac
Dr. Roger LaGratta Receives Award
December 2nd, 2020
During this year’s annual Catholic Charities’ Danbury Celebrity Breakfast, Dr. Roger LaGratta was honored for serving on the Advisory Board of Catholic Charities of Northern Fairfield County for 40 years.
Dr. LaGratta serves as the President of the Board and has accomplished incredible work on behalf of Catholic Charities and its programs in the Danbury area. Roger LaGratta, M.D., is a retired orthopedic surgeon who is the past president of Danbury Orthopedic Associates. He has also served as Chief of Orthopedics and as Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Danbury Hospital, in addition to serving as President of the Orthopedic Section of the Connecticut State Medical Society. He has been a board member for Catholic Charities of Danbury for approximately forty years and has previously served as its president. He is a recipient of the Mary Dolce Memorial award and of the St. Augustine Medal of Service. Together with his wife, Constance, who is a trustee at St. Joseph Parish, Danbury, they believe strongly in the mission of Catholic Charities.
If you would like to learn more about how you can become involved in the work of Catholic Charities and its mission, please contact us.
Bethlehem House II Public Notice to Bidders – REV 3
November 15th, 2020
Bank of America Donates 12,000 Masks to Catholic Charities of Fairfield County
October 30th, 2020
Bank of America’s Support Provides Vital PPE to Programs Providing Services to all of Fairfield County, as well as the Thousands of Clients in Need of Assistance
Fairfield, Connecticut – October – Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, one of the largest private social service providers in the state of Connecticut, received 12,000 masks from Bank of America. The aid continues an innovative partnership that has allowed the agency to provide meals to residents, served through local restaurants in Stamford and Bridgeport. Since the start of the coronavirus, protective personal equipment (PPE) supplies have been low and costs have been high, making it even more challenging for non-profit agencies like Catholic Charities to secure what is required to stay open for business. For an agency like Catholic Charities, closing because masks are not available is simply not an option.
This donation is part of a nationwide effort by Bank of America to immediately distribute nearly four million PPE masks to communities disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, including communities of color, and is connected to its $1 billion, four-year commitment of additional support to help local communities address economic and racial inequality accelerated by a global pandemic. This is in addition to the four million masks the company donated earlier this year in cities across the country.
“Bank of America is committed to working with local partners that keep our families, communities, clients, and teammates safe during the health crisis,” said Bill Tommins, Southern Connecticut market president for Bank of America. “Throughout the coronavirus, Bank of America has joined forces with local organizations to address families’ most basic needs. By supplying Catholic Charities with PPE, we’re able to help them further their mission and continue feeding families, safely, at the same time.”
“If we close, a single mother is unable to pick up groceries to feed her family. Homebound senior citizens do not receive their meals delivered to their home. A person experiencing a crisis related to depression or anxiety cannot connect with their therapist for counseling services,” said Executive Director Mike Donoghue. “Our services our vital in helping the most vulnerable populations in the communities throughout Fairfield County. We meet the most basic needs.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Catholic Charities’ programs and services have continued to thrive, but many required the vital PPE in order to remain open. The Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport remained open with a 30 – 40% increase in meal service provided through a grab and go format. The Morning Glory Breakfast Program in Danbury was closed, but provided 4,900 meals to homeless individuals who have been moved from shelters to the Super 8 Motel to ensure social distancing. Room to Grow Preschool in Norwalk reopened September 9th with 109 students in attendance. It was a state mandate for all students and teachers to wear masks throughout the day.
“The masks provided by Bank of America have been a blessing for our staff and clients,” said Bill Colson, Director of the Thomas Merton Center. “Many clients were unable to not only find masks, but they also could not afford them. They were at risk. This donation not only helped to protect staff while they served the clients, but it also helped the clients to stay safe while out in the public.”
Catholic Charities 36 programs provide services throughout Fairfield County. Combined, they serve over 10,000 individuals in Fairfield County, Connecticut each year.
Written by: Amy Zajac