Catholic Emergency Response Fund (CERF)

Article written by Report, Tim Puet, for the May 3, 2010 Catholic Times.

The unexpected and unprecedented impact of the coronavirus pandemic is being felt by every parish in the Diocese of Columbus and by its food pantries.

The Catholic Foundation responded quickly to that need, announcing on March 19 the creation of an emergency response fund to provide immediate and flexible assistance to diocesan families through their parishes and to six pantries affiliated with the diocese.

Loren Brown, the Foundation’s president and chief executive officer, said the fund began with $250,000 from its unrestricted endowments and has increased to $650,000.

The first grant, totaling $5,000, went to Columbus Christ the King Church. Father David Schalk, the parish’s pastor, said he distributed $500 of that amount to a family. “I heard about their hardship in a simple conversation with them,” he said. “The head of the family works in construction, but his hours were reduced because of COVID-19.

“His wife is a housekeeper at a hotel, but has no rooms to clean. That means the family’s income has practically disappeared. Our $500 contribution supplemented their April rent payment. It was a blessing for us to be able to give a little bit of help and hope.”

The parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society made an additional $2,500 available to the parish, so it still has $7,000 to give to families in need because of the coronavirus. Father Schalk said no one else has asked for assistance, but he anticipates that will change as more families find themselves lacking funds.

A total of 17 parishes and six food pantries received emergency grants totaling $188,250 from the Foundation. Dan Kurth of the Foundation said a second round of grants should be awarded soon.

The largest grant, totaling $16,000, went to the St. Francis Center in Portsmouth, which became the only remaining pantry in the Ohio River city of 20,000 people when the virus closed its other pantries.

“The money was a lifesaver for us,” said center director Barbara McKenzie. “With all the other pantries closed, we have been handing out 600 food boxes a week. We usually distribute around 400 a month. Our principal source of funds was our thrift store, Clare’s Closet, but it also was closed by the pandemic. Without the Foundation’s help, we may have closed, too. We had a fundraiser on April 15 which raised $25,000 in an hour, so we have more available, but we couldn’t have made it without the Foundation.”

Five other pantries – at the Bishop Griffin Resource Center, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Center, St. Stephen’s Community House and St. Lawrence Haven in Columbus and the St. Francis Center in McArthur – received $10,000 apiece from the Foundation.

Parish grants of $8,000 each went to Holy Spirit, St. Cecilia, St. Thomas, St. Philip, St. Matthias, St. Peter and Ss. Augustine & Gabriel churches in Columbus and Powell St. Joan of Arc, Millersburg St. Peter, Newark St. Francis de Sales, Marion St. Mary and Grove City Our Lady of Perpetual Help churches. New Lexington St. Rose Church received $7,500; Columbus St. James the Less Church, $7,000; Columbus St. Margaret of Cortona Church, $3,750; and Columbus Holy Name Church, $3,000.

Patty Rinehart at the Bishop Griffin Center said its pantry usually serves about 500 families a month, but that number went up to 750 in March and was at 580 for the first half of April. She said the extra help benefits families such as a mother, a father and their second-grade son who walked more than two miles to the site for food because they could not make ends meet. “The volunteers’ eyes welled up as they saw the boy help his parents take two bags of food and essential items including soap and toilet paper, plus a third bag with fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, milk, eggs and cheese,” she said.

A member of one family from Newark St. Francis de Sales expressed gratitude with a note saying, “I have lost my father and my business. My husband lost two-thirds of his workload, and I did not qualify for a Small Business Administration loan because I am self-employed. I am so grateful to my St. Francis family right now. If we did not have our faith, we would have nothing.” Father David Sizemore, the parish’s pastor, said about $4,000 of its $8,000 grant has been distributed.

Brown, the Foundation president, said that soon after Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency in Ohio because of the virus on March 9, the Foundation’s key executives and board of trustees began hearing from pastors about their concerns.

“It didn’t take long for us to get together, realize we had to do something and begin thinking of the best ways to help people impacted by the virus,” he said. ”We had a conversation with Bishop (Robert) Brennan to say we planned to place our emphasis on individuals and families in parishes, and the bishop asked us to also focus on the pantries.

“The fund began with our $250,000 as seed money, with many early contributions from individuals and families who have donor-assisted funds with the Foundation. That was followed with checks and credit card donations from many first-time donors – some we knew, and some we didn’t,” Brown said.

“What’s amazing is how fast the money came in at the beginning. Within a couple of days, we were at a half-million dollars. We were able to leverage the seed money, and the faithful quickly responded.

“Many other diocesan Foundations created similar funds, and I believe ours is the second-largest among diocesan Foundations of this type. The only one that I know is larger is that of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, which is at around $800,000.

“After the initial surge, the amount of giving seems to have plateaued here and elsewhere in the country. I think part of that is because people in Ohio are feeling a little more hope as they see how Gov. DeWine has handled the situation and how the curve showing the spread of the virus is flattening,” Brown said. “But the need remains great and will be for some time, since no one knows how long the restrictions resulting from the virus will last.”

Kurth noted that the fund has a substantial amount remaining and anticipates more parishes will be making use of it. “I think all the pastors I talk to are aware of it,” he said. “Pastors were cautious about asking for assistance at first because they weren’t sure how long the situation would last. They wanted to hold off until they learned more about people’s financial situations.

Besides creating the fund, the Foundation, at the request of Bishop Brennan and diocesan finance director William Davis, said it would accept online applications for its 2020 responsive grants cycle in May rather than the usual date of September because of the pandemic.

Parishes, schools, invited religious orders and invited nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply. The process opens on Friday, May 1 and closes on Friday, May 29.

The cycle will follow the Foundation’s regular procedures, with special consideration for projects related to, or impacted by, the pandemic. Applicants may apply for one grant in each of the Foundation’s four pillars of interest: parish life; Catholic education and faith formation; social services; and vocations.

Most funding is for grants of less than $10,000. However, projects requiring $10,000 to $25,000 for capital or program needs also will be awarded, and a limited number of ministries will receive funding for projects exceeding $25,000, to a maximum of $50,000.

The Catholic Foundation was founded by Bishop Emeritus James Griffin in 1985 and has awarded more than $200 million, including about $14.5 million in 2019. It has more than $180 million in assets and manages more than 1,000 endowment funds, whose earnings are paid annually to a beneficiary while the principal remains untouched.

These include nearly 200 donor-advised funds – “charitable checking accounts” through which the donor decides where the money will go. Nearly 80 percent of grants from these funds benefit parishes, schools and ministries throughout the diocese. Other funds managed by the Foundation include charitable gift annuities, charitable remainder trusts and scholarships.

“Parishes and schools are so blessed by the impact endowments have,” Brown said, “because they are perpetual, reliable resources, especially at a time like this, providing benefits for generations to come.”

UPDATE as of April 29, 2020 – To date, including the initial $250,000 seed gift, a total of $660,000 has been given to the fund and $256,750 has been granted to 7 food pantries and 24 parishes.

Catholic Emergency Response Fund Website

Article written by Report, Tim Puet, for the May 3, 2010 Catholic Times.