DANBURY—Understanding and inspiration were the messages shared at the annual Catholic Charities Celebrity Breakfast.
The annual event, which helps raise money for numerous Catholic Charities’ community programs delivering care to those in need, was held at the Amber Room Colonnade and featured Dr. John Murphy, M.D., chief executive officer of Nuvance Health.
“I thank Catholic Charities for the work they do,” Dr. Murphy said as he spoke about the complex approach and collaboration needed for the community response to COVID-19.
Dr. Murphy shared his thoughts on what the medical community missed and misunderstood in the early days about the emerging virus and how the community, with the instrumental help of Catholic Charities, has pulled together for healing.
“As a health system we’ve had 14,000 people with COVID-19 come through our doors,” said Dr. Murphy, adding that about 900 souls were lost. “If you are lucky enough to survive, you are not necessarily out of the woods,” he said. “Long-haulers have it very hard.” Long-haulers is the term used to describe those who have recovered from the acute phase of the illness but continue to suffer from lingering health problems.
Dr. Murphy said besides the obvious health challenges, the impact of the virus often has a ripple effect on families and the greater community from grief for those who were unable to be near a loved one during their illness or death to the fear felt by many, including healthcare workers, who were on the frontlines and putting themselves at risk everyday to help combat the crises.
“There was not only the fear of getting sick but also the economic impact,” said Dr. Murphy, referring to the thousands of people who lost their jobs and were living in uncertainty about having the basics of daily life such as food and shelter.
Dr. Murphy said compounding the health crises was the phenomenal degree of misinformation. He cited statistics of how anxiety, depression and domestic violence have skyrocketed. “The people who are most at risk have underlying issues,” he added, noting how overdoses were the highest ever reported in the United States during this time.
“This crisis hasn’t left us,” Dr. Murphy said. “It is very real. We have to find a way out of this,” he said, adding that Catholic Charities is the compassionate connection in the community helping people navigate their way through difficult times.
“Catholic Charities is there to deal with the isolation and the deprivation COVID-19 has imposed on us,” he said, referring to some of the organization’s programs such as the Morning Glory Breakfast Program, Behavioral Health Counseling Services and Community Support Program.
“Catholic Charities is right there and helping us stay together and soldier through this,” he said.
Indeed, the Morning Glory Program with the help of Douglas Polistena, general manager of the Amber Room Colonnade has delivered more than 50,000 meals to those in need. Morning Glory program coordinator Tamara Espinal was also thanked for her efforts and commitment to making meals in her home and going out to find and deliver it to people in need during the initial months of the pandemic when many services were closed.
During the breakfast, Dr. Barbara Ina Anderson, a noted research scientist who worked at Schlumberger-Doll for over 40 years, was honored by Catholic Charities of Fairfield County for her tireless contributions to the community.
A parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Brookfield, the 80-year-old Newtown native volunteers at Dorothy Day Hospitality House and serves meals through Catholic Charities.
“The church is now my extended family,” she said, as she accepted her recognition award. “I take all the opportunities to be with my extended family.”
The community of programs offered through Catholic Charities truly has the power to change lives.
Jeffrey Umansky, who was recently promoted to assistant program director of New Heights, an emotional and physical wellness and recovery center run by Catholic Charities, was once a client.
“I found a place of hope and promise,” he said. Jeff said he suffers from social anxiety disorder but wanted to share his story with the group because of the profound effect Catholic Charities has had on his life.
Jeff recounted how he dropped out of school, suffered from bipolar disorder and tried a myriad of medication before he stumbled across Catholic Charities New Heights program.
“I want to provide the support that was provided to me and help make someone’s life better,” he said. “I felt a sense of purpose and empowerment. It helped me a good deal and continues to do so.”
The speeches by both men resonated with those in attendance.
“I thought Dr. Murphy’s talk was very informative and cleared up some misconceptions I had,” said Linda Moritz, a parishioner of St. Rose Church in Newtown.
Moritz said she was touched by Umansky’s story. “It was so enlightening to hear how he trudged on even though he had all those problems,” she said.
Proceeds from the breakfast will support the many programs of Catholic Charities in the Danbury area including Behavioral Health, Homeless Outreach, Immigration Services, Morning Glory Breakfast Program, New Heights/Warmline, Disaster Case Management, Pregnancy Counseling and Adoption Services.
“To see the people here in this hall, it’s an outpouring of love,” said Barbara Talarico, a parishioner of St. Peter Church in Danbury. Anthony Scalzo, a parishioner of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Danbury agreed, “It’s great to see a good turnout for Catholic Charities.”