Sign Up for Our Newsletter!

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: . You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact


Host Rick Howick welcomes Ellen Roy to the studio for today’s discussion. Ellen is the Executive Director for Catholic Charities of Orange County. She shares about her fascinating background; and, about some of the incredibly important work that happens every day. This ministry is an absolute lifeline to so many.. Catholic Charities of OC!

Listen and SHARE this podcast!






Originally broadcast on 3/27/21


CLEVELAND (CNS) — Scott Milliken has seen a lot of people come through the doors at the Father English Center’s food pantry during his years as CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, but not like the numbers since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March.

“We are feeding more people than ever,” he said.

Whereby in a typical month before the pandemic the program served between 5,000 and 7,000 people, agency statistics showed, the numbers rose significantly in the spring. In April it was 11,000, in May 21,000 and in June 25,000.

In terms of quantity, the amount of food distributed between March and July totaled 940,000 pounds, far beyond a typical month before COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, arrived. Milliken estimated the food to be worth about $1.6 million.

Milliken said the agency has seen demand for short-term utility payment and rental assistance and other needs skyrocket by 60% a month from pre-COVID-19 times. Since March the agency has distributed $1.8 million – on average about $1,500 per household.

The agency leader doesn’t expect things to change any time soon, especially since the July 31 end of the temporary unemployment benefit of $600 per week that was included in legislation passed early in the federal response to the pandemic.

“The increase just on Monday (Aug. 3), the phone was just ringing off the hook of people who need services,” Milliken told Catholic News Service. “They’re worried about losing their homes. Their worried about feeding their families.”

The response in the Paterson Diocese is part of nearly $400 million in emergency aid and services that Catholic Charities agencies nationwide have provided since March in response to the pandemic-induced economic recession.

“There are a lot of food and housing-related issues being met,” Dominican Sister Donna Markham, CEO and president of Catholic Charities USA, said.

Information gathered over the last two weeks by the umbrella agency for U.S. Catholic Charities operations showed that the clients seeking assistance comprise a broader demographic than low-income and poor households that traditionally walk through the doors.

Sister Markham said that among the 50% to 70% increase in the number of clients are people from middle-class families who lost their jobs as the pandemic surged during the spring. “And they are trying to figure out how they are going to eat and pay their rent or mortgage,” she told CNS.

Similar requests are being made beyond Catholic Charities, Sister Markham added.

“The whole charitable sector is being stretched to the limit. How long can that be sustained without some significant government support?” she asked.

Some of the need has been met by corporate donors and small companies that have stepped in to provide food in particular.

Jessica Sillaro, owner of The Bread Gal in Paterson, New Jersey, has provided bread, rolls and other baked goods to the Father English Center, the agency’s addiction recovery program and its Department for Persons with Disabilities as well as other charitable outlets in the city 22 miles northwest of New York City.

“We did anything we could. We reached out to some people who we thought would be in need,” Sillaro told CNS.

Even though from the start the pandemic had cut into Sillaro’s ability to sell products to local businesses and restaurants, she said she wanted to continue forming a “strong bond with our community.”

The diocese reported that at the peak of the pandemic Sillaro was providing 10,000 individual bakery products weekly.

“We’re just trying to do our part. Nothing special,” she said.

Sister Markham said elsewhere corporations such as Golden West Food Group in California and the Idaho-based Albertsons grocery store chain have provided millions of dollars in food donations.

At Catholic Charities of San Antonio in Texas, requests for food jumped from between 300 and 400 families per week to an average of 3,500 per week from April through June, said Antonio Fernandez, the agency’s president and CEO.

“It’s just never-ending,” he told CNS Aug. 4.

Through Aug. 1, the operation had distributed 490,000 pounds of food, much of it donated from grocery stores and corporate partners, Fernandez said. Agency staff members are planning to distribute food to 5,000 people — another 70,000 pounds — Aug. 8.

Food is just one area that has seen a sharp rise in demand. Rising numbers of people have sought legal services, assistance with income tax filing, emergency shelter and counseling, Fernandez said. Overall, the added needs have cost slightly more than $10 million, according to agency statistics.

Elvira Ramirez, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Stockton, California, said the rising number of cases in the largely agricultural region the agency serves has led a burgeoning need among military veterans and working families who face losing their homes.

“They are coming from all different directions. It’s definitely because of COVID that existing problems are getting worse. And now it’s about working families who are getting behind and their ability to support their families,” Ramirez said.

“It’s mostly agricultural and restaurant workers and domestic workers. It’s people who were probably on the edge and living paycheck to paycheck,” she said.

The agency has received support from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as well as local foundations to meet the increased need. However, Ramirez wonders how long the funds will last as the pandemic resurges in California.

Despite the difficulties, the agency leaders are maintaining a positive attitude.

“I tell our folks, ‘Let’s not get overwhelmed. Let’s see how we can help,'” Ramirez said.

Fernandez stepped in at his agency’s food center after 100 employees had to be placed in quarantine after a volunteer tested positive for the coronavirus even though the full range of safety precautions recommended by Texas officials was implemented.

“You show the others we have to step up,” he said.

Milliken in New Jersey said he sees “light in the people” who provide assistance as well as those seeking help.

“The people that we’re serving, they know that people care. There’s light in people who are providing donations to use so we can do what we do. There’s light in the staff. They’re essential employees. Our staff is on the front lines feeding and helping people, putting their own lives at risk, too,” Milliken said.

“Everybody’s worried, but there’s light in the good people of the world. The history of Catholic Charities has shown we come together as people and as a church to help those who need help.”


Catholic Charities of Orange County for 44 years has served society’s most vulnerable individuals and families – those of us least prepared to survive a crisis like the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Already struggling before the COVID-19 disaster struck, many find themselves without food or shelter and some face deportation. 

“At Catholic Charities we are willing to help all who come to us and treat them with dignity and kindness,” says Rose Ann Stock, interim executive director. “It really is an amazing organization with hard-working, dedicated staff who risk their own health to provide services to others less fortunate.” 

So dire are the economic circumstances wrought by the current health crisis that the organization’s food bank has seen its numbers doubling and tripling from week to week, Stock says. On April 1, 201 households and 700 individuals received assistance from the organization’s Santa Ana-based Cantlay Food Distribution Center; during the final week of the month, 731 households and 3,655 individuals sought help. Totals for the month were 6,433 individuals and 32,392 individuals. The Cantlay Center, operating since 1976, is one of Orange County’s largest food banks. 

But food distribution, as vital as it is, is just one part of Catholic Charities’ mission. Collectively, Stock says, Catholic Charities of Orange County’s outreach efforts have increased by 242 percent since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus – along with the skyrocketing need for additional funds and volunteers. 

“Demand for help is always so high,” Stock says. “While we are a Catholic organization, we serve the entire community of Orange County. It’s because of our faith that we serve – we believe in the dignity of everyone.” 

With 12 Catholic Charities offices located statewide California, the organization makes up California’s largest non-government social service provider. The Orange County office is part of the network of Catholic Charities USA, one of the nation’s leading nonprofit charitable organizations. 

“Because of our longevity and our history, we are a trusted source of help,” Stock notes, “not only for people in need but also for social workers who contact us when they have someone in dire need. They tell us, ‘I’ve heard wonderful things about you and know I can trust you.’” 

The organization has three main missions: Life-sustaining services, help for the displaced or marginalized, and the promotion of spiritual and emotional health.  

Catholic Charities of Orange County: 

  • Provides quality professional social services to individuals and families to transform hopelessness and despair into self-reliance and optimism.
  • Advocates for justice and respect to transform social structures so that human dignity, reverence for family life and community well-being are embraced.
  • Expands knowledge, providing education and resources to assist Catholic parishes to live out the Gospel’s call to practice works of charity and justice.


In addition, Stock says, the organization is assisting the U.S. government in compiling figures for the 2020 Census.  

Still, in light of the novel coronavirus crisis, the organization’s laser-focus at present is generating funding and volunteers in response to burgeoning need. 

“We are seeing a few more donations, but obviously it’s not nearly enough,” Stock notes. “We’ve been pounding the pavement looking for volunteers as the demand for food has cars lined up for the drive-through distribution. We need more assistance all the time.” 

She invites potential donors to send checks sent through the mail or make payments via PayPal or credit cards on Catholic Charities of Orange County’s website at Alba Romiro, coordinator of volunteers and parish ministry, invites interested potential volunteers to contact her at [email protected] or 714-347-9668.  

“I’ve seen the people affected most gravely by COVID-19,” Stock observes. “People recognize that everyone’s just trying to maneuver through it, but it you were already in a precarious position to begin with, you are facing some very scary times.” 



Catholic Charities of Orange County serves as a social services agency in the Diocese of Orange, promoting a holistic approach to social service delivery that is client-centered and community-based. 

“Our strength lies not only in the effectiveness of the services we provide, but in our ability to access our community’s hard-to-reach populations in need,” says the organization’s website. 


Serving God’s people in need without regard to their religious affiliation, among the services it provides are: 

  • Food pantry distribution programs
  • Nutrition education and obesity prevention classes
  • CalFresh enrollment and education
  • Immigration and citizenship assistance
  • Counseling and therapy services for children, adults and families
  • New Hope Crisis Counseling Hotline at 714-NEW-HOPE
  • Natural family planning education
  • Camps for people with disabilities


The Cantlay Food Distribution Center at 2020 W. Chestnut Ave. in Santa Ana offers drive-through food distribution on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 7 a.m. to noon. Call 714-347-9694 for more information. 

Catholic Charities of Orange County is located at 1820 E. 16th St., Santa Ana CA 92701; phone is 714- 347-9600. 


On a cloudy morning in Santa Ana, the cars begin lining up along a pitted, potholed back alley in an industrial area. By 7:30, about a dozen cars are backed up behind the Doris Cantlay Food Distribution Center in Santa Ana. For the next four and a half hours the line of cars will accordion from long to short and back. 

In the afternoon, groups of homeless and carless residents filter through the backlot of the facility operated by Catholic Charities of Orange County. 

On any given day, upwards of 10,000 pounds of food will be distributed to feed the hungry. In a month, the distribution center will serve between 11,000 to 15,000 clients. 

According to Michael Tijerino, program director for food distribution, he and his crew of six part-timers are delivering 75 percent more food since COVID-19 took hold in Southern California. 

In February 2020, the last month when stats are available, Catholic Charities distributed 287,459 pounds of food, compared to 188,217 pounds in January. 

“Since all this is happening, it’s been crazy,” he said. 

Where once trucks delivered food a couple times a week, they now arrive daily, Tijerino said. 

“We’ve been able to continue without stopping at all,” said Rosy Stock, interim executive director of Catholic Charities of Orange, as she observes the distribution. “The longer this (coronavirus crisis) goes on, the more the demand will be,” she said. 

Many of the clients are like Emilio Delgado. A resident of Santa Ana, it is his first visit to the distribution center. “We’re out of work,” said the unemployed cook, laid off from his job in Lake Forest. 

As he watched the food being loaded into his SUV, Delgado had a large grin, possibly thinking about the evening meal. 

Beginning in mid-March, after California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide shelter-in-place order and social-distancing directives to slow the spread of coronavirus, the food bank switched from walk-in to primarily drive-through service. 

Cars are allowed into the backlot of the Cantlay facility where volunteers roll out a prepared shopping cart of food per car that they load into the vehicle. What exactly each client receives is by luck of the draw and no two loads are the same. Each family receives a 10-15 pound bag of canned fruits, vegetables, soups, sauces or other nonperishables. 

After that it’s a smorgasbord of foodstuffs, depending on what has arrived that day from the Second Harvest Food Bank and Community Action Partnership. 

On this day there are cartons of dragon fruit, which are replaced by watermelon-sized jackfruits later in the shift. Fresh produce, such as organic spinach or lettuce, is often included, along with baked goods and meats. On this day, a lucky family scores a three-pound brisket from Gelson’s. Another family received a birthday cake and yet another a tray of 30 cupcakes. 

The donated food can be anything. Oddly, there is a pallet of filled cartons of individually wrapped ice cream sugar cones. 

The shopping carts, donated by Northgate markets, are arranged in a kind of production line. As each car pulls up, the next basket in line is rolled out. 

“Each of these carts probably has at least $50 worth of food,” Tijerino said. 

With nearly 100,000 square feet of space the Doris Cantlay building, which moved from a much smaller facility about a year ago, has the space. About 50 four-by-four-foot pallets in the warehouse area are stuffed with boxes filled with pre-packed bags of canned goods. The warehouse also has two large walk-in refrigeration units. 

While food is plentiful, volunteers are a constant need, Stock said. 

Leo Gonzalez, a volunteer from Santa Ana, who does maintenance and handy work, was recruited to the production line a day earlier when it was short of volunteers. 

“I went home and collapsed,” the 62-year-old said with a laugh. “I’ve never been so sore in my life.” 

But he is happy to do his part. 

“It’s a good ministry,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there who need it. A lot of people are not paid well enough to feed their families.” 

Several of the day’s volunteers are not so different from the drive-through recipients. Cuyler Ledyard, Gustavo Sanchez and Ezequiel Magana are all first-time volunteers who were laid off from different companies due to the virus. 

Saying he now had free time, Ledyard said, “Knowing I could make a difference makes the days go by easier. It’s tough out there.” 

Sanchez, who worked at the Santiago Retreat Center until it closed, said merely, “I like to help any way I can.” 

Then there was Kwang Nguyen, the director of Youth and Young Adult Music at the Diocese of Orange. “I’m different,” he said. “I’m busy, but you carve out time to help people.” 


WASHINGTON (CNS) Feeding the hungry — one of the Works of Mercy described by Jesus in Matthew 25 — unfolds every day in the outreach of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. 

But with the coronavirus outbreak and the resulting financial crisis impacting many individuals and families, the agency has seen a dramatic growth in the need for providing food to those in need in the nation’s capital and in surrounding Maryland counties. 

“It’s multiplied greatly,” said Scott Lewis, the executive director of Catholic Charities’ Enterprises, Education and Employment Department. 

As an example, he noted, “I was working three weeks ago at the Spanish Catholic Center’s food pantry in Washington, D.C., and we saw 54 families. This was just before the stay-at-home order (for D.C. residents).” 

On April 8 at that food pantry, Lewis said they served 200 families and expected to distribute another 200 food packages the following day — which amounts to a nearly eight-fold increase in less than a month. 

On Holy Thursday, April 9, Catholic Charities held a Virtual Food Drive to encourage Catholics to make online financial donations to help the agency meet the growth in the need for food assistance. 

For the agency, which is on the front lines of the fight against hunger in the Washington region all year round, the Virtual Food Drive, “is really important,” Lewis told the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper. Without it, “we wouldn’t have funding to support all this extra purchasing we needed to do and all the food distributions,” he said. 

In 2019 Catholic Charities provided more than 2.5 million meals to those in need and distributed more than 1 million pounds of food to local pantries. 

Across the Potomac River from Washington, in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, on a recent cold, rainy morning, a line of cars started at the back of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church, hugged the outline of the parking lot and stopped at the entrance. Those on foot formed a shorter line parallel to the cars. 

Volunteers wearing face masks and gloves worked under tents, putting dried beans, canned fruit and other goods into grocery bags. They urged recipients to stay in the cars as they themselves loaded car trunks with food.


BALTIMORE (CNS) — An experimental program to address chronic homelessness is guiding people into permanent housing while saving millions of dollars in health care costs, the president of Catholic Charities USA told the U.S. bishops.

Dominican Sister Donna Markham said Nov. 13, the third day of the bishops’ fall general assembly in Baltimore, the agency’s healthy housing initiative is collaborating with diocesan Catholic Charities programs, parishes, local funders, and Catholic health care systems to deliver comprehensive services for homeless people.

The program involves placing homeless people into stable housing and providing essential supportive services to reduce hospital readmissions while ensuring that basic needs are met.

Chronically homeless people are among the primary users of hospital emergency room care across the country because they do not have ready access to a physician or a medical clinic when they become ill or injured, Sister Markham explained. After they are discharged, homeless people often return repeatedly for care because of their lack of access to routine services on the street or a resurgence in illness or injury that caused them to seek help in the first place.

The program is underway in collaboration with diocesan Catholic Charities operations in Detroit; St. Louis; Las Vegas; Portland, Oregon; and Spokane, Washington. The goal is to reduce chronic homelessness in the communities 20% by 2024, Sister Markham said.

“Everyone needs a safe place to sleep, they need to have their food inside. They need to use the restroom inside, not on the street,” she said.

In cases where homeless people are in stable settings, costs of care and support total about $8,000 annually as compared with $250,000 per year for people who regularly turn to hospitals for assistance, she said.

“We’ve made this a very strong and strategic priority right now,” Sister Markham told the bishops.

The program was developed as part of Catholic Charities USA’s goal to address the shortage of affordable housing nationwide.

In a separate report on the final day of the assembly, the chairman of Catholic Relief Services’ board of directors said the agency works around the world to ensure that Catholic values underlie its relief and development work.

Bishop Gregory J. Mansour, who heads the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, New York, said any funding the agency receives is vetted to ensure that Catholic teaching is not violated by requirements put in place to receive the funds.

Other agencies CRS partners with may see such actions as “strange,” because we act by “truly serving people in all their human dignity,” he said.

“We’re Catholic to the core, training our 6,700 employees around the world whether they’re Catholic or not all the tenets of Catholic social teaching,” he told his fellow bishops during a presentation that highlighted the organization’s work around the world.


MIAMI (CNS) — While it appeared Sept. 3 that Hurricane Dorian would skirt Florida’s east coast, the widespread catastrophic damage to the Bahamas associated with the historically large and powerful storm is not going unnoticed.

Residents along the southeast U.S. coast from Florida to North Carolina were concerned about where the storm goes next after raking the northwestern Bahamas for more than 24 hours.

“I think we are going to be OK, but it remains to be seen what the northern coast of Florida will have to endure, as well as the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas; and it remains to be seen what can be done for the Bahamas,” Peter Routsis-Arroyo, director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, said Sept. 2.

To the north, officials in the Florida dioceses of Palm Beach, Orlando and St. Augustine were monitoring the storm’s path and were prepared to close offices and schools if necessary. Catholic Charities agencies in all three dioceses were also making emergency preparations.

Routsis-Arroyo told the Florida Catholic, the Miami archdiocesan newspaper, that he spent much of Labor Day morning in conference calls with Catholic Charities USA staff and separately with the seven Florida diocesan directors of Catholic Charities agencies and with his own program directors and senior staff around the Miami Archdiocese.

Catholic Charities Miami is part of a statewide and national network monitoring the slow-moving Dorian both in the Bahamas and its anticipated impacts in U.S. coastal communities in coming days.

Hurricane warnings and watches had been posted from the Florida coastline to South Carolina. Hurricane conditions, with sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or greater were forecast for Florida the evening of Sept. 3, while areas farther north were expected to be affected beginning Sept. 4.

Dorian has been described as one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes to strike land in some 80 years. It was downgraded from a Category 5 to Category 3 Sept. 3 after blasting the Bahamas Sept. 1 with sustained winds of 185 mph.

Miami-Dade County was out of the danger zone and officials had not issued any evacuation orders, so the St. Luke Center for drug and alcohol abuse and New Life Family Center for homeless families are continuing their operations, according to Routsis-Arroyo.

Charities agencies in Broward County to the north were boarded up to protect facilities there and are in a wait and see mode for now, he added. Following the hurricane, it is possible that Catholic Charities sites and some parishes around the greater Fort Lauderdale area could serve as distribution points for post-hurricane relief if they are needed.

“The seven Florida dioceses and Catholic Charities have a mutual aid agreement and we will be ready to help one another if another diocese is impacted by Dorian, and our hearts and prayers go out especially to the Bahamas,” Routsis-Arroyo said.

The archdiocese is planning a general Hurricane Dorian relief appeal to address needs wherever they occur in Florida, the U.S. and the Bahamas. Catholic Charities USA also is accepting donations on its website,

Catholic Charities USA and Airbnb announced Aug. 30 an agreement to provide free, short-term housing for disaster relief personnel deployed throughout the U.S. and its territories. The agreement covers people assigned by Catholic Charities USA and diocesan Catholic Charities agencies.

Routsis-Arroyo canceled a trip that had been planned to the Florida Keys in early September for members of the agency’s board of directors to see progress on long-term housing projects the archdiocese has under construction there.

“While Dorian didn’t impact Haiti, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, our (overseas) focus can be on helping the Bahamas, and we have been in touch with Archbishop Patrick Christopher Pinder (of Nassau),” Routsis-Arroyo said. “Our archdiocese has worked closely in the past with Archbishop Pinder and he will let us know what his needs will be going forward, whether with monetary help or with donations we get if he has specific needs.”

Several Catholic Charities Miami staff have family members living in the Bahamas. Early indications showed they safely endured the storm, but little else is known.

“We do have staff with family there and thankfully they are reporting that the families are OK, but there is devastation in those northern islands. Communications have been tough but we do know that those relatives are alive. But this storm is sitting right there,” Routsis-Arroyo said.

While Catholic Relief Services is generally responsible for the U.S. bishops’ charitable outreach to the Bahamas, it is likely that the Miami Archdiocese will serve as a natural liaison to the islands given its proximity and historic ties to the church there, he added.

One of the first tasks that Dorian presented the Miami Archdiocese came early: At the end of August steps were taken to ensure the safety of about 70 unaccompanied minors housed at Catholic Charities’ Msgr. Bryan Walsh Children’s Village. Local staff accompanied the young people to undisclosed locations out of harm’s way before returning to resume hurricane preparations.

The order to move the children came from the Office of Refugee Resettlement under the Department of Health and Human Services.

“We are responsible for these children, so their safety is of the utmost importance,” Routsis-Arroyo said.

Archdiocesan offices were closed Sept. 3. A decision to reopen Sept. 4 will depend on the degree to which Dorian’s outer bands affect South Florida.


Vicente Orozco is a 17-year-old Orange County student who attended Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac Catholic School for 11 years and is currently a Servite High School student. With these schools Vicente has been participating in a legacy of service to the community since he was a child.  

As part of the Servite Brotherhood Vicente has learned he can count on his fellow students when he needs help, and that he also has the responsibility to serve like Christ through acts of faith in his community. Vicente wanted to do more for people in need in Orange County and to specifically help other young men his age.  

Emma Zuniga is a 16-year-old Orange County student who alsoattended Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac Catholic School and moved on to Mater Dei High School. As a student and a Girl Scout of 11 years Emma has been participating in a legacy of service to the community since she was a child.  

As a long-time Girl Scout Emma is committed to active citizenship and promoting compassion through community service.  

Teens Vicente Orozco and Emma Zuniga are life-long friends and have years of experience volunteering to help kids in crisis like children of cancer patients or abused mothers, special needs children, and even abused kids or kids in foster care.  

It occurred to Vicente that he and his friends often help cute babies and adorable kids in need, but sometimes forget the teenagers. It’s often those older siblings that are not just suffering through the crisis like their younger siblings, but also have to grow up quickly and become part of the solution. These teens have to be more responsible siblings, supervise the little ones, and even get a job to help the family financially. As a result, they often lack the time and resources to be successful at school. Vicente wanted to help these teens be confident and go back to school, ready to learn. But he needed a partner to reach out to girls. Emma Zuniga was the perfect person. She stepped up and leads Sisters Helping Sisters Back to School.  

Emma and Vicente proposed to help other young men and women make the best of their education and high school experience by providing teens in need with gently used clothing and shoes as well as backpacks and school supplies.  

They didn’t just want to do a ‘hand out,’ but an entire experience that would uplift and encourage teens as they go back to school. They wanted to replace stress about finances and appearances with a joyful and uplifting experience. They wanted teens to pick what they like and help them feel good, as well as get what they need to start a new school year full of hope and a brighter outlook. The solution was a one-day pop- up shop full of fun, food, great clothes, including some items previously enjoyed, but also a few new items that teens could make their own.  

They also needed a way to identify teens, get the parents’ approval, and a great venue for their pop- up shop. They approached Catholic Charities of Orange County (CCOC) with the idea of partnering with them. Catholic Charities helped identify teens as well as host the pop-up at their Doris Cantlay Food Distribution Center in Santa Ana.  

These teens called on friends, family and students of local schools like Servite High School, Mater Dei, Rosary, and JSerra to collect donations. With great support from generous families Emma and Vicente collected over 1,000 pounds of ‘merchandise’ for their pop-up. They collected new and previously enjoyed clothes and shoes, as well as new backpacks and school supplies every high school teen needs. Guess donated jewelry and they got cool socks form Active Ride Shop as well as much needed school supplies from Office Depot. Operation Be Kind donated 50 backpacks with school supplies!  

Volunteer parents and local high school students worked through the week to set-up the pop-up shop, complete with great music and even a Snack Shack that offered fresh fruit, pastries, freshly popped popcorn, drinks and sweets for teen shoppers and their families. Shoppers were helped by personal assistants as they walked through the center, shopping for ladies clothing, boys clothing, accessories, shoes, jewelry, socks, backpacks, and school supplies. In all, 60 families brought their teens and enjoyed a day of carefree shopping. It was a day of great joy for teen participants and their families as well as volunteer parents and teen personal shoppers. Participant shoppers and volunteers alike hope this will be the first of many years for the Brothers Helping Brothers Back to School and Sisters Helping Sisters Back to School Pop-Up Shop.


PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) — The crushing, life-altering event can occur during the most mundane circumstances — as parents pay a traffic ticket or drop kids off at school.

“It’s happening every day in Portland, in Eugene, everywhere in the state,” said Vanessa Briseno, director of Oregon Catholic Charities’ Pope Francis Center.

Arrests of immigrants in the U.S. illegally are increasing nationwide, and the result is more children are losing — or fearing they will lose — a parent through detention or deportation.

On July 22, the Trump administration released a new policy allowing immigration officials to quickly arrest and deport undocumented immigrants without going before a judge. More than 20,000 people could immediately be subject to the expanded fast-track removal process.

The expansion is the latest in ongoing efforts by the administration to keep migrants from entering the country illegally or remove them after they enter. Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported more than 256,000 immigrants, an increase of 13% over the previous year.

Some years of the Obama administration, the numbers were even higher, though convicted criminals and those who’d entered the country multiple times were targeted. Under the current administration, agents are instructed to detain and remove anyone living in the country illegally, including individuals without criminal histories. Many of these individuals are parents and caretakers.

When it’s a parent who’s deported, the impact on children is traumatic and has emotional, developmental and physical repercussions, said Lucrecia Suarez, manager of the Intercultural Counseling Center at Catholic Charities. Even a baby’s development “can be altered by the toxic and chronic stress the remaining parent, and the entire family, has to overcome with such a loss,” she said.

Catholic Charities is attempting to help support these children through a range of services. “We don’t know what the outcome will always be for the families,” said John Herrera, director of the agency’s Immigration Legal Services. “But we can do our best to provide support and use existing laws to keep parents with their children. Through it all, we are working to fulfill the Gospel.”

Current policies have created “a blanket of fear over the entire immigrant community,” perhaps most significantly over children, said Michael Bennett, a lifelong Catholic and a Portland immigration judge for nearly three decades.

In Oregon, an estimated 62,000 young people, many U.S. citizens, have at least one immigrant parent who is without documents, based on U.S. Census Bureau data from 2013. Nationally, nearly 6 million U.S. citizen children live with a family member who does not have legal status, according to 2010-14 census figures. Children in these families are living with relentless stress, Briseno told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

Although the well-publicized, large-scale raids of immigrant families haven’t materialized in the state, there has been “a steady increase in ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) pickups,” said Kat Kelley of Catholic Charities. When a raid does occur, “it’s almost as bad as it can get for children,” according to Bennett, now retired and a member of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Seaside. “It’s not quite like a death in the family but almost.”

“The psychological effect of all this on children, on families, is huge,” added Kelley. “We are going to see a public health fallout over this for decades.”

Suarez, who with Catholic Charities colleagues is attempting to mitigate that fallout, said fear and stress associated with family separation manifests itself in different ways physically and mentally for children depending on their ages.

At the counseling center, support for children focuses on the entire family. Counselors and case managers begin by helping parents in practical ways, such as with children who don’t want to attend school or are unable to sleep. “Then, during the grieving process of loss,” she said, “we offer sustained ways to stay connected to a deported family member and to preserve hope.”

Some argue that the children of these immigrants suffer because of their parents’ actions.

“One of the questions we most often hear is: ‘Why don’t these people follow the legal channels to get here?'” said Briseno, of the Pope Francis Center, which provides information about social justice initiatives. “Once undocumented people are here, the next response usually is, ‘They should just go home and get in line.'”

But “there is no line,” Briseno said. This is especially true for those who have left their countries overnight due to severe threats. “What we are seeing today are mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents who are fleeing their home countries with children at their side because the threat of violence, death, starvation is all too real for them.”

Holy Cross Father Daniel Groody, an associate professor of theology and global affairs at the University of Notre Dame, who has written extensively on migration, argued that borders are not absolute.

Many involved in this U.S. immigration debate have legitimate concerns about an influx of immigrants, he said, and the Catholic Church accepts the necessity of national borders. But “there is also a way of seeing deeper questions about law and our relationship with others,” the priest said.

Matt Cato, director of the Portland Archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace, said that if society were to truly “appreciate the significance of children’s emotional ties throughout the first years of life, it would no longer tolerate children growing up fearful of losing a parent.”

Catholic Charities is using legal expertise to try to preserve these ties, protect the vulnerable and keep families intact.

Nationwide and in Oregon, legal services for families facing separation are extremely limited. That’s partially because retaining a private immigration attorney can cost thousands of dollars and is too expensive for the average immigrant family in the state, according to Herrera, head of Immigration Legal Services.

The Center for Removal Defense was established by Portland’s Catholic Charities in 2017 to provide “equal access to justice and representation for undocumented migrants in our community,” Herrera said. He added that a number of center clients are from mixed-status families — those composed of at least one U.S. citizen.

According to data analyzed by the American Immigration Council, immigrants with access to legal counsel while in custody are four times more likely to be released from detention than their unrepresented counterparts.

The center’s full-time lawyer and legal assistant have argued more than 220 asylum cases. Currently they are tackling about 40.

Over the past two years, “we’ve seen a significant uptick in the number of individuals and families who seek our services,” said Briseno. They’ve had to turn away almost 200 cases because they lacked sufficient resources to help.

Along with the center’s legal aid, Catholic Charities offers parents guardianship workshops, where attorneys go through paperwork ensuring that if one or both parents are detained or deported, their children will not enter the foster care system. A child’s older siblings or a neighbor, for example, is given authority to make decisions on behalf of the parent.

“It’s heart-wrenching to think about what parents are needing to do,” said Briseno, adding that Catholic Charities also belongs to a partnership that aims to keep kids out of foster care by providing trained host families.

And the agency helps immigrant families come up with a plan for children if their parents “don’t come home one day,” said Kelley. It includes a list of what numbers to call, where important papers are kept and where children should go.

“We encourage families to have the plan taped to the door or bathroom so it’s visible in a crisis,” Kelley said.

One of the tragedies of separation for families is that even if reunited, “damage has been done,” said Bennett. “You don’t get that time back with your kids.”

Still, Suarez believes there’s hope for children to heal from the trauma. “Every child is different, but you can see a resilience in each of them that they learned from their parents,” she said.

“That these families have survived up to this point shows how resilient they are.”


Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA) – It is a crowded-but-calm scene on Thursday morning, just before 9 a.m., in the lobby of the James Cardinal Hickey Center in downtown Washington, DC. About 50 people, including a woman with a seven-month-old baby girl, are packed in chairs against the walls, waiting for Catholic Charities of Washington, DC to officially open for the day.

A little after 9 a.m., people are asked to check in with a receptionist before they are led downstairs to begin meeting with Catholic Charities workers.

Unlike the majority of the people serviced by Catholic Charities, these people are not homeless, or even jobless: they’re furloughed government workers facing a partial government shutdown which has already lasted 26 days.

“We don’t normally serve people who are government workers. That’s not our normal population; (which is) people who are homeless, or have lost their jobs or don’t have the ability to feed their families,” Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington president and CEO Fr. John Enzler explained to CNA.

“So this is a different group, and we want to be there for them as well, because this is a shock to their system to have no income, to have no paycheck.”

This is the first time anyone can recall Catholic Charities of Washington being asked to provide assistance for furloughed workers.

For three days, at a set time and location, any furloughed government worker or federal contractor is eligible to receive up to $500 to help with rent, medical needs, or “essential home supplies.” Catholic Charities writes a check directly to the service provider. Catholic Charities explained on their website that they are not currently assisting with water, gas, or electricity bills because companies that service the Washington area have already established programs to help furloughed workers.

While the first two distribution days saw a “decent crowd” according to Enzler, Thursday’s was by far the largest. He told CNA that he suspected this was due to the location of the office, which is near all of the city’s metro lines. The first two locations were accessible only by car.

Catholic Charities of Washington got involved through a partnership with United Way of the National Capital Area. The President and CEO of United Way, Rosie Allen-Herring, reached out to Catholic Charities, and asked them to be one of the three charities to receive money to assist furloughed workers. Catholic Charities was picked because they have a “pretty broad spectrum of services,” Enzler said, and are present throughout the southern Potomac area.

“It’s a chance for us to become a player in trying to help people who have been affected by the shutdown,” he added.

Catholic Charities COO Pat Dunne told CNA that he “didn’t know what to expect” when it came to assisting furloughed workers. He said that it was “a question of getting the word out, and our communications folks worked really hard to get the word out to everyone.”

One of the people who received word that Catholic Charities would be providing assistance to federal employees was a woman named Zenola.

Zenola told CNA that she has worked for Housing and Urban Development for nearly 20 years. She has been furloughed the entire length of the shutdown.

She said that her daughter saw a notice about the program on Facebook, and she called Catholic Charities to ensure she would be able to receive assistance.

“They told me to come on down,” she said.

This past month without pay has been tough for Zenola and her family.

“We’ve been hit pretty hard as far as our January bills,” she said, and although she has tried to save money, she’s “exhausted” her savings account trying to keep up with bills for her mortgage, car, and other expenses.

Zenola was grateful to Catholic Charities for the assistance, and said she and her family “really, really, really” appreciates it.

Catholic Charities received $36,000 to allocate on a first-come, first-served basis, and Enzler expected that money would be exhausted on Thursday. His prediction looked to be accurate: by 9:45 a.m., the lobby was full once again.