February 1, 2021 | Local News

Throughout pandemic, there has always been a light in the tunnel


Susan Montalvo-Gesser is the director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro. FILE PHOTO

I listened to a homily a few weeks back that talked about the phrase “a light at the end of the tunnel,” with reference to the anticipation of vaccines being available to end the pandemic. That phrase had always bothered the celebrant (as it has always made me a bit uncomfortable) and his homily revealed why… like an epiphany… Fr. Larry Hostetter reminded us that during times of darkness and strife, there are always lights in the tunnel. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it is that we have lights in our tunnel in our diocese, and the donations to and work done by Catholic Charities illuminated the good that help lead us through the tunnel and into the light of a post-pandemic world.

At the time I heard that homily, I was anxious because we were down to $135 in our COVID relief fund at Catholic Charities. We had given out over $230,000 in assistance to people in the diocese affected by the pandemic and we had to turn desperate people away. Days later, Catholic Charities USA announced that the Felician Sisters created a fund called the Francis Eviction Prevention Grant. We applied and immediately were approved for $10,000 more for eviction relief. Then, more donations from faithful Catholics appeared. Now we stand ready to further our work. By the time you read this, we will have surpassed a quarter million dollars in aid distributed during the COVID pandemic, over triple our entire agency budget for 2019. We have done this with over $120,000 in grants and $75,000 in donations. In addition to the direct aid, we have partnered with the shelters to provide housing in hotels, when shelters could not take another resident due to reduced capacity. We partnered with Owensboro Health and the International Center to educate refugee and immigrant communities on COVID prevention while holding mobile food pantries. Deacons Ken Bennett and Chris Gutierrez distributed meals in immigrant communities with goodie bags containing sanitizer, masks, and blankets.

We provided parishes with sanitizer and masks. We delivered Christmas to 11 undocumented families. Miguel Quintanilla, Catholic Charities’ paralegal, has led the way working with landlords and other agencies to provide language access.

Meanwhile, we still deliver the immigration services our clients and partner organizations have come to expect. We adapted to the need for more mental health counselors who could provide teleservice or online counseling. Further, our coordination and information sharing with other agencies has improved. We now have a much more active presence on social media to stay connected, when we still need to remain physically distanced.

Yet, we have not stopped thinking about the other unmet needs in our community. In partnership with the Bakhita Empowerment Initiative and Catholic Charities of Louisville, we will house a human trafficking case manager. The position is already posted to the diocesan website and we look forward to accompanying survivors of human trafficking while educating the community to prevent the trafficking of persons.

We try to live out our faith’s teaching by living a preferential option for the poor, the stranger, the hungry. We are always looking for people to be lights with us… you can serve on (or lead) one of our committees: Social Justice/Gospel of Life, Rural Life, Mandeville Sister Diocese, Diocesan Disabilities Awareness, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Further, we are sustained by prayer and monetary donations. To donate, you can: 1) mail a check to Catholic Charities, 600 Locust St. Owensboro, KY 42301 or 2) TEXT the word “give” to 270-200-5919 following the instructions on the screen; or 3) online go to https://owensborodiocese.org/give/ and fill-out the giving form.

Susan Montalvo-Gesser is the director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro. Learn more at owensborodiocese.org/catholic-charities.

Originally printed in the February 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.


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