Ashlee Wolf, development director for Catholic Charities in Fresno, shows some of the food they’ve been distributing. With the holiday season approaching, food providers have already felt the strain imposed by the pandemic. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz

published on September 14, 2020 - 1:08 PM
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The winter is usually the busiest time of year for charities. This year, however, has seen a major influx of new clients and people in need as Covid-19 devastated small businesses and led to furloughs and layoffs.

Ashlee Wolf, development director for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Fresno, said the Covid fallout that started in mid-March saw their service numbers increase 74%. Wolf says 40% of the clients at their doorstep were new and added that she and colleagues can easily spot them from people who’ve been in poverty long.

“Their mannerisms are different,’ Wolf said. “How they ask for help is different and you can just tell that they’ve never had to ask before — and it’s something new for them.”

It’s also been something of an eye-opener, as some of those coming are friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances to the staff and volunteers.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has seen some setbacks to the Catholic Charities team. They’re an independent nonprofit, but the closure of churches means fewer donations of goods like furniture to their thrift stores, which rely heavily on contributions from the faithful in North Fresno.

Still, even with these setbacks and with newcomers, Wolf believes they’re more than ready to handle the large number of holiday season clients whose numbers are expected to swell with those impacted by Covid-19.

She attributes this in large part to the efforts of the community to donate and assist, along with other charitable organizations pitching in to mitigate the influx.

“I think the community has really stepped up to meet the food insecurity needs,” Wolf said. “We see food distributions taking place all over Fresno, so that’s been a really great thing.”

Among the charitable organizations helping out is Poverello House. According to CEO Zachary Darrah, it’s already been a record-setting year for them, and they’ve definitely felt the pressure. In one example, Darrah pointed to their emergency food bag program, which consists of a bag containing eight meals worth of food. Pre-Covid, it was typical for Poverello House to distribute 100 to 150 of these in a month. But over a four-month period, that number rose to 1,000 per week.

This doesn’t include the meals served by Poverello House in their kitchen and elsewhere, and Darrah said they’re on track to double the last fiscal year’s figures.

“Last year, we did about half-a-million meals. This year, we will probably do over 1 million meals at this rate,” Darrah said. “So obviously that’s a huge increase.”

As with Catholic Charities, Darrah said the community has stepped up when possible. But they’re still feeling tremendous strain. Prior to the pandemic, they’d already seen an increase in their workload. Now, Darrah is confronted with the impact whenever he walks into his office.

“There’s lines when I come to work in the morning—people waiting an hour before we even open—just so they can see a case manager about a need that they have,” Darrah said. “We’re seeing those impacts trickling down and throughout our community, and showing up here in Poverello House.”

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