'An emergency within an emergency' - winter storm during pandemic depletes CCFW resources
FORT WORTH — Just because temperatures are warm and the governor lifted the mask mandate doesn't mean things are back to normal. People in Texas are still dealing with the effects of Winter Storm Uri which exacerbated the already dire COVID-19 situation.
As a result, Catholic Charities Fort Worth is sending an urgent message requesting help.
Lost wages, food and water needs, housing instability, and high utility bills are some reasons thousands of individuals and families are on a two-to-three month waitlist for help.
"CCFW currently does not have the capacity to meet the massive demand for assistance in our community," the organization said in an appeal for help.
At its peak, more than 3,400 individuals were on the waitlist needing $4.2 million in aid.
Merrissa Kuylen, CCFW program manager, said after they reached those numbers, they had to close services to new applicants.
Crews at CCFW are still answering the phones Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon to assist with community resources, internal referrals to disaster response and short-term case management, and scheduling food deliveries and transportation.
"While still responding to community need during the time our call line is open, our current focus is serving those on the waitlist. Our goal is to make a substantial impact on our current waitlist and re-evaluate when we will be able to re-open applications," Kuylen said.
CCFW is also providing utility financial assistance.
"We are especially on high alert for those who may have been on variable accounts and seen an extreme change in their usage bill," she said.
CCFW has served more than 10,000 families impacted by COVID-19, and throughout the crisis it has been the number one referral source for those calling 2-1-1 for help.
Cindy Casey, CCFW director of client strategy, said when COVID-19 first hit, no one knew how long it would last.
"We couldn't have projected this," Casey said. "What we did know is we had clients losing their jobs, and clients getting sick."
Casey said staff needed to learn a new way of case management — doing everything remotely or virtually — which was a challenge in itself. Programs at CCFW are successful because of relationships between caseworkers and clients.
"Then comes 2021, and all of a sudden we have the storm," she said.
Casey said right after the storm, $16,000 was spent on food and water for existing clients. With electricity outages and burst pipes, the needs kept coming.
Yesika Moncada, program supervisor for CCFW’s Padua Project, said many of her clients had to leave their homes because of mold developing after broken pipes.
Rather than just a one-time rent payment, Padua is a long-term program to help those suffering from poverty learn how to problem solve and address challenges.
Moncada said after the storm, they did a wellness check on all their clients to make sure they were OK not just physically, but emotionally.
Some clients who had finally built up a small savings account are now faced with losing it all on needs caused by the storm, which is disheartening, Moncada said.
To help, Bishop Michael Olson asked for an emergency second collection to be taken in each parish for CCFW during Masses on March 20-21.
“As you know, the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have inflicted a disproportionate impact upon the working poor in our community,” the bishop said. “Likewise, the disastrous effects of February’s winter storm disproportionately harmed our brothers and sisters striving to leave poverty in the communities served by Catholic Charities Fort Worth.”
He continued, “The recent winter storm and its effects confronted us with an ‘emergency within an emergency’ as the clients of CCFW had already been reeling from the effects of the pandemic.”
Kuylen said she is amazed by the resiliency and compassion demonstrated by the staff members and volunteers.
“When we originally started this journey, we expected this to last a few months. We are now coming around to a year and they have maintained a high level of quality in their work as well as their empathetic response to those seeking assistance,” she said. “The extended impact and response of the pandemic have weighed heavily on everyone, but they continue to show up because they believe in the mission of our work and the roles they play within it.”
To help CCFW meet the urgent needs of members in the community, please visit CatholicCharitiesFortWorth.org to donate.