Archdiocese, Catholic Charities raise $20 million for COVID relief

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Deacon Pablo Perez of Kolbe House delivers donations on May 4, 2020, to a person recently released from prison. The COVID-19 relief fund supports these effort at Kolbe House, which saw an increase in the number of people being released from prisons and jails early because of the pandemic. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

A young mother, pregnant and laid off with two small children at home to take care of and no income for food or rent. A man who can’t work after being hospitalized with COVID-19, who suddenly can’t make ends meet when his wife also gets sick and has to stop working. Family after family who could risk bankruptcy to provide a dignified burial for their deceased loved ones.

Sharon Tillmon and her colleagues at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago have heard these stories and many, many more, as they work to meet the needs of people whose lives have been affected by the pandemic.

Many of them have been helped with about $20 million raised by the Archdiocese of Chicago and Catholic Charities in response to the crisis.

“There are so many folks who never needed help, never asked for help before,” said Tillmon, director of Family Stabilization Services for Catholic Charities. Family Stabilization Services offers emergency help with day-to-day needs, such as food, clothing and shelter.

Other offices within Catholic Charities can assist with money for burials and provide help for people experiencing domestic violence, among other things.

Money raised by the archdiocese also has been used to fund emergency scholarships for Catholic school students whose parents can’t pay as much tuition as they did before the crisis, for Kolbe House jail and prison ministry to help people returning to the community and to help parishes to keep their own ministries that serve the poor open.

Bishop Robert Casey, vicar general of the archdiocese, said the fund has been used to respond to requests as they come in.

“That’s the nice thing with this relief money, is that we have the flexibility to go beyond just offering food at a time of such stress and hardship for people,” Bishop Casey said. “What we see with the pandemic is not necessarily needs arising that are new and we haven’t seen before. It’s an acceleration in those needs, and an increase in those needs. Catholic Charities and our parishes have been responding to these needs for years.”

Bishop Casey said he is heartened by the response the emergency fund has received.

“The truth is that we have consistently been trying to respond to the reality of poverty and injustice,” he said. “It’s part of our mission as the church. This moment awakens the need to be generous. People have kind of opened their eyes to the truth before us.”

Brendan Keating, chief development officer for archdiocese, said people have responded generously to appeals for help, whether they are large donors who have been directly asked for contributions or smaller donors, who heard Cardinal Cupich mention the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund during a homily in a Mass that was available on television and YouTube.

About 30% of the donors to the relief fund have never given to the archdiocese before, Keating said, and more donations have come from other states than usual. Some donors have been extraordinarily generous.

“It really depends on their individual situation,” Keating said. “For some of our donors this is the largest charitable contribution they have ever made. Some donors who are normally very generous may not be able to contribute as much as they would hope.”

Overall, $12 million has been raised for the archdiocese’s fund, and Catholic Charities has raised about $8 million more for COVID relief, Keating said.

The breakdown of how archdiocesan money has been spent and information on how to donate is available at

Wherever it comes from, Catholic Charities clients and staff need every penny, Tillmon said. In March, the agency saw increased demand for help at food pantries come at a time when it had to stop relying on most of its volunteers, who were in high-risk groups for COVID-19.

“We had to turn to more temp agencies and hire people,” Tillmon said. “And we had to figure out new ways of delivering supplies. We used to have choice pantries, where people would come in and choose what they wanted, but we can’t do that, so now we’re back to pre-packed bags.”

Catholic Charities’ food pantries expanded their hours and stopped checking to see whether people were coming for help more than once a month. They saw demand rise about 60 percent in the spring, then double in the summer as the agency was able to create pop-up pantries with produce available from a program that provides food direct from farms just as early federal relief packages ran out.

Demand eased slightly in October, but it rose again in November as the number of people infected with COVID-19 rose and the holidays approached.

At the same time, the agency increased the amount of money available to people who needed rent, mortgage or other assistance to give them more time to get on their feet, Tillmon said.

“It used to be we’d do a month’s rent, or maybe a month plus a security deposit if people were moving,” she said. “Now we can do more. Or, say someone lost their job and started driving for Lyft, but something went wrong with their car. Maybe we can help fix it.”

The stories are nothing new to Sister Claudia Carillo, a Daughter of Mary Immaculate of Guadalupe and principal of Immaculate Conception School, 8739 S. Exchange St.

Twenty-two of the nearly 200 students at the school are receiving emergency scholarships to help them stay in the school, she said.

More than a $1 million in scholarships averaging $1,400 each have been distributed to 726 students in Catholic schools.

“The parents come to me and say, ‘Sister, we have to take the kids out of school because we can’t pay what we did,’” she said. “Some of them have three, four children, and the parents worked in a restaurant that closed, or maybe it reopened but they don’t call them to work every day. Or the father had a good job and got laid off and is driving for Uber and just doesn’t make the same amount anymore.”

The emergency relief scholarships are in addition to several other archdiocesan and other scholarship funds that provide help to Immaculate Conception students.

Sister Claudia said the school has lost some students — some families moved out of the neighborhood after looting along nearby Commercial Avenue in May — but not because of inability to pay.

Overall, she said, the situation seems to be looking up, not because the situation with the virus is better but because families are learning to cope with it.

“In the beginning,” she said, “no one was prepared for this. Now people are learning to maneuver. And of course, here at school, we benefit from our faith and the hope that it brings.”



  • catholic charities
  • covid-19

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