Catholic Charities moves ‘outside’ and online to help the poor and vulnerable

BRIDGEPORT—Catholic Charities programs throughout Fairfield County have moved outside and online during the pandemic as staff and volunteers struggle to meet growing needs for food, shelter and counseling services.

“This is a moment when our clients need us the most, and we have seen increased demand for our services in almost every program,” said Mike Donoghue, Executive Director of Catholic Charities.

Donoghue said the agency has been able to provide some services online while at the same time safeguarding the health and safety of those who continue to deliver services in person. Staff and volunteers are practicing social distancing as they all pitch in to serve the most vulnerable.

“Our employees on the front lines at our soup kitchens/ food pantries and those delivering meals to homebound seniors are doing heroic work to help our neighbors in need,” he said.

Merton House in Bridgeport, New Covenant Center in Stamford, and Morning Glory in Danbury, which normally would be serving lunch communally, have moved the food outside, where guests are given take-out breakfasts and lunches.

The needs have increased overnight, with many people who had never experienced hunger suddenly finding it difficult to feed themselves and their families, said Donoghue.

Donoghue said that New Covenant Center in Stamford has been distributing between 500-700 meals a day, up from 175 last year, while Merton Center in Bridgeport has jumped from 150 to 300 meals daily. Both centers also feed large numbers through their food pantry services, which provide grocery supplies to low-income families.

Charities “Meals on Wheels” program for seniors has also seen a jump up to 700 meals daily from its 450 per day pre-crisis total. Seniors also receive an additional 14-day supply of emergency meals in response to the COVID crisis.

All of Catholic Charities congregate sites have been closed and drivers “are doing heroic work” to home deliver the meals, Donoghue said.

Likewise, the Catholic Charities “Room to Grow” early learning center in Norwalk, which suspended classes in mid-March, has transitioned to daily online learning after providing teachers with tablets.

Room to Grow has also pivoted to assist families with nutritional needs because half of the families served by Room to Grow are now unemployed, and they need help to feed their children. In response, Room to Grow has collaborated with Filling in the Blanks, a local non-profit to provide more than seventy families with groceries 4-5 days a week for curbside pickup. That effort has been assisted through a grant from a generous private donor.

While much of Catholic Charities work has been involved in the growing number of hungry and food-insecure individuals and families who are visiting their soup kitchens and food pantries, the agency has also been able to reach out through case management services and its new telehealth counseling sessions.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to more anxiety and depression, and a greater need for counseling. With telehealth we can now provide these services to anyone in the Diocese,” Donoghue said.

He said the transition to online groups and more virtual counseling has worked well and is covered by most third party payors.

“We’ve seen fewer cancellation with telehealth, and clients have responded well to virtual counseling and group therapy for Covid-19 related anxiety/depression,” he said.

Catholic Charities has also has created service plan modifications that allow for more remote and virtual services to clients in its housing and community support programs.

The agency is now conducting Case management services (which help people to live independently) remotely with some face-to-face contact with clients on a limited basis to advocate for and help to create access to health care and housing. Its New Heights program has provided telephone outreach to over 1,000 clients who benefit from its wellness and recovery center programs.

Donoghue said that while Catholic Charities has been trying to stretch resources to benefit the growing number of clients, it has also begun working with parishes and volunteers to serve people in need.

“Parishioners are looking for ways to help people in need and it turns into a fun community building at a time when Churches are closed for public worship,” said Donoghue of the growing number of food drives.

Catholic Charities recently teamed up with St Thomas More Parish in Darien to hold a food drive for New Covenant Center.

To learn more about Catholic Charities programs along with information about volunteering and support their work, visit: