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Catholic Charities drive heads into traditional "Appeal Sunday" far short of 2020 goal

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Catholic Charities’ annual appeal has raised $3.75 million to date, putting the drive far short of the $10 million goal set in January. And as it heads into what is traditionally one of its most important weekends, it will miss out on the face-to-face donations it has historically relied upon, courtesy of coronavirus.

Palm Sunday, traditionally, is the holy day when local Catholic parishes aid the drive by collecting donations directly from parishioners. But churches, since mid March, have halted Sunday Masses in compliance with New York State's "PAUSE," which has suspended large social gatherings as a means to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Deacon Steve Schumer, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Buffalo, expressed gratitude to those who have contributed. Some, he suggested to WBFO, have added supplemental donations in recognition of the services that will be provided during the pandemic.

"Given the unprecedented headwinds that we face, I'm actually encouraged by what we what we do have, and anecdotally, we're seeing people send in additional donations," he said.

During the pandemic, Catholic Charities' programs will focus on what Schumer described as basic needs and emergency needs, including food and shelter. In the past two weeks, he says, demand has risen by about 30 percent.

"Many of the things that we provide are critical services that people rely on. For instance, WIC, and we administer WIC in three counties in western New York," Schumer said. "Over 2,000 families, in I think the first 12 days of this crisis, continued to receive the WIC benefits, where they used to come in, in person. Now we're working with people over the telephone. So we've had to make a lot of adjustments."

Catholic Charities also remains active in mental health services, and is using what Schumer describes as "telehealth," or counseling conducted by telephone instead of the face-to-face interaction they would normally conduct before the pandemic broke.

Schumer admits there were already concerns about donor response in light of the Diocese of Buffalo's clergy sex abuse crisis. He told WBFO that when churches were still hosting masses before the outbreak, volunteers would make guest appearances to explain that Catholic Charities is a separate legal entity from the diocese and, thus, donations would not be used to cover settlements or other related obligations.

Some parishes are offering Sunday Mass by live video streaming. A Western New York-based Catholic radio station, WLOF, broadcasts live Masses. But Schumer says not having the opportunity to attend Mass in person during the pandemic, heading into Holy Week, certainly hurts their ability to reach their goal.

"I think perhaps that certainly is a worry, and it's a worry for the parishes as well because they rely on what people put in the basket on Sunday to pay the bills," he said. "Over 90% of our appeal donations come from parishioners in the pews."

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