By Meg Waters     1/20/2021

“As a catholic, how do you say ‘no’ to feeding the hungry? We are all called to serve everyone in need,” says Ellen Roy, the new executive director of Catholic Charities of Orange County (CCOC). The need is greater than ever, but the complications inherent in serving others in a time of masks and social distancing calls for creative approaches and a willingness to be flexible.  

The Catholic community in Orange County is focused on helping others through this time of crisis like a slingshot fixed on Goliath. 

Catholic Charities of Orange County provides services to people along the entire spectrum of life: children, adults, families and communities.  For years, CCOC has served mostly low-income families and individuals with adoption, pregnancy services, foster care, senior care, immigration, criminal justice ministries and more to address the unique needs in our community. 

With so many people unemployed, food insecurity is a real issue – and not just for the poor. Every food bank in the county has seen demand skyrocket. CCOC runs the Doris Cantlay Food Distribution Center in Santa Ana which has always had a steady clientele.   

Now the line for the drive-through food bank, which is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, is over a mile long. “It used to be that our clients could come into the center and pick out what they needed. Now we have to pre-package groceries and people have to drive through to pick them up,” said Roy. The Cantlay Center works in partnership with several food-distribution organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank.  

Housing is another critical issue as families face eviction. CCOC helps low-income families pay rent and utilities until they can get back on their feet.  

Many parishes and schools continue to organize food drives and other charitable outreach programs. The goods raised are either sent to the Cantlay Center or distributed within the parish neighborhood.  

Catholic Charities Orange County, which serves the poorest of the poor in Orange County, has a much broader mission than food distribution. Social distancing has complicated a lot of their outreach activities, even as the needs increase exponentially. Another rapidly expanding ministry is family and individual counseling – as prolonged stay-at-home orders, domestic violence and unemployment strain families to the breaking point.  All the mental health and counseling services are provided free or at low cost. 

The organization operates the New Hope Counseling hotline, which was started by Reverend Robert Schuller of the former Crystal Cathedral. Today, the hotline’s reach is worldwide. There is always a need for volunteer counselors. Currently they have to work from Christ Cathedral, but a new phone system is in the works which will make it possible for counselors to work remotely.  

Orange Catholic Foundation (OCF) is also responding under new Executive Director Kimberly Jetton, who came here from the L.A. Archdiocese. “OCF is pivoting to be the fundraising arm for the entire Diocese of Orange, said Jetton. “Our goal is to raise between $4-5 million per year to fund a variety of ministries within the diocese.”   

There are a few volunteer opportunities on the governing board. They are looking for Catholics who represent the diversity of Orange County and wish to help set the priorities for the foundation under the canonical authority of the bishop.  

Fred La Puzza heads the diocese prison ministry. In normal times more than 300 volunteers visit correctional facilities to distribute the Eucharist, pray and minister to the inmates. “We’ve started having virtual sessions,” said La Puzza, who has also put together a series of flyers for the youth center as well as adult facilities. (They can use these for bible study or reflection on their own or in small groups. Our biggest need right now is new or used bibles that we can distribute at the facilities.” 

Many other Catholic organizations have redoubled their efforts to help Orange County navigate the Covid pandemic. For anyone looking for volunteer opportunities, the best to start is one’s parish. Many parishes have food drives and other programs that work in conjunction with diocesan ministries. For information on how to help with the work of Catholic Charities, contact Ellen Roy at [email protected]. If you are interested in the work of the Orange Catholic Foundation, contact Kimberly Jetton at [email protected]. For information on the prison ministry or to donate bibles, contact Fred La Puzza at [email protected].