By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. — Every Saturday and Sunday at the Oak City Outreach Center just off Moore Square in downtown Raleigh, volunteers feed four meals a day to a total of 875 homeless people.
Coordinating 40 to 45 volunteer groups that take turns preparing and serving meals at the Center, which is housed in the city-owned former Salvation Army warehouse, is Catholic Charities, an arm of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh.
Catholic Charities traces its history to 1898, when a Catholic orphanage was established on the Nazareth property in western Raleigh that will be home to a new cathedral the Diocese is building.
The agency serves 54 counties in the eastern half of state — a region in which one in five children grows up in a household that is poor. Working to address the needs of the poor not met by other agencies, it provides 65,000 to 70,000 people a year with emergency assistance, programs aimed at reducing poverty, and clinical mental health services.
“We are Catholic and because of our faith we serve people who come in the door, regardless of their faith, and in a way that tries to meet the need they present to us,” says Gary Skinner, executive director of Catholic Charities.
At Oak City Outreach Center, the agency coordinates volunteer groups on behalf of the Center’s two of other partners, including the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness and the City of Raleigh.
Now, the Partnership, the city and Wake County have selected Catholic Charities to be the operating partner in developing a new Oak City Center, which will offer multiple services for the county’s homeless population.
To be developed in two to three years and financed with private and public dollars, the new center will serve as a one-stop shop to refer homeless people in Raleigh to health and human services they need, and as a central repository of data on services to the homeless.
Catholic Charities will work with the community and the three partners to develop an integrated system of services to the homeless population
The center might provide “consolidated-intake” services, for example, as well as showers and laundry facilities, Skinner says.
Catholic Charities operates with an annual budget of $5 million, 54 employees, and 450 to 500 regular volunteers, and counts on the Diocese for just over a fifth of its budget, eclipsing all but four other Catholic Charities organizations in the U.S. in the share of its funds it gets from its Diocese.
It also receives funds from foundations; five local United Ways, including United Way of the Greater Triangle; individual donations; contributions from local parishes and other giving; events that include an annual gala that this spring raised $176,000 and next will be held in October 2016; investment income; and fundraising by local offices in Catholic Charities’ eight regions.
Annual donations to Catholic Parish Outreach, a food pantry in Raleigh that is the largest in the state, for example, totals about $530,000, or three-fourths of its annual budget.
And the Stewardship and Advancement Office for the Diocese provides Catholic Charities with support for generating planned gifts. In the past year alone, Catholic Charities received two bequests totaling $900,000.
In each region it serves, Catholic Charities designs it services to meet local unmet needs, Skinner says.
Depending on the region, emergency assistance might include food or financial assistance for utilities, medicine or transportation. Poverty-reduction programs include employment support, resume writing, interview preparation, and access to health insurance and health care. And clinical mental health counseling, both in English and Spanish, works to help clients deal with issues ranging from anxiety and depression to managing stress, recovering from trauma, and coping with problems in marriage.
Together, the region that includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Burlington, accounts for nearly half of Catholic Charities’ work.
In Durham, Catholic Charities provides about $100,000 a year in financial assistance to about 500 families. In New Bern, it provides $70,000 worth of vouchers to about 130 seniors who cannot afford to pay for prescriptions and used the vouchers to buy medicine worth about $260,000.
Catholic Charities provides immigration services in Raleigh, Greenville and Wilmington and, by the start of 2016, will expand those services to Burlington, Fayetteville and Goldsboro. Those services focus on helping immigrants become citizens, get work permits and, if they are victims of a violent crime or human trafficking, obtain visas for which they are eligible that are needed to help protect them from further harm and enable them to assist in apprehending the perpetrators.
Those services focus on helping immigrants become citizens, get work permits and, if they are victims of a violent crime or human trafficking, obtain visas for which they are eligible. Visas involve immigrants with police, enabling them to assist in apprehending perpetrators of a crime.
Catholic Parish Outreach, a food pantry that is Catholic Charities’ single biggest program, in its most recent fiscal year distributed $3.5 million worth of food to 48,000 people, mainly in Wake, Johnston and Franklin counties.
The program receives donated food and buys food from the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, among its other suppliers. It also receives food from drives every Catholic parish in Wake County holds each month.
Individuals may visit the food pantry once a month to get a week’s worth of food, typically driven by the uncertainty of living on the edge in a tough economy.
“Catholic Charities provides people with food and other assistance to meet their immediate needs,” Skinner says. “And we work to help them become economically self-sufficient.”