A Bucks County parish has raised thousands of dollars for – and lifted the spirits of – dozens of area families struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since March, volunteers at St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish in Yardley have collected close to $90,000 for a “Community Emergency Fund” that has so far benefited some 35 families as well as a number of local non-profits.
The effort is spearheaded by members of the parish’s longtime social action committee, which for years has provided aid to those experiencing homelessness, hunger, disaster and distress.
But when COVID restrictions were implemented, the committee – along with several Knights of Columbus — mobilized quickly to increase the level of outreach, said member Jennifer Sullivan, who described it as “an extension of the work the parish was already doing.”
Individual grants from the fund cover an array of needs, she said, including food, clothing, housing and medical payments.
Applications, which take the form of a simple email to the parish office, are open to “anyone in the community,” said Sullivan, and the evaluation process is swift and straightforward.
Social action committee chair Ken Driver telephones applicants to assess their situations, then reviews the requests during one of two Zoom meetings the group has each week. Approved applications are then forwarded to the parish business manager, who prepares a check.
“The whole process only takes a few days,” said Sullivan, noting that the four-member committee ensures applicants’ privacy by assigning a case number to each request.
“We don’t know their names unless they’re willing to share that information,” she said.
Since the committee consists of volunteers, the outreach has “no overhead,” she added.
“Every dollar you give to us goes to someone in need,” said Sullivan.
While there have been “a few donors who have been very generous,” she said, most of the funds collected have been smaller gifts that have added up significantly.
“The generosity of our parishioners has been nothing short of amazing,” she said.
The idea for the fund “brewed up from the laity,” said Sullivan, and quickly received the blessing of St. Ignatius pastor Father Andrew Brownholtz.
“It’s vital that the parishioners take an active role in assisting others,” said Father Brownholtz, who regularly promotes the fund in his parish communications. “Jesus commands us to ‘do unto others as you would like others to do unto you,’ and they are literally putting their faith into real life situations.”
Those circumstances encompass “some pretty deep needs,” said Sullivan, noting that COVID’s economic impact has been devastating even in suburban areas with above-average median incomes.
“One single mom with four children lost her job due to COVID, and to feed a family of five is expensive,” she said. “We gave her money for food, and a list of local food pantries as well.”
For Mark, a Bucks County resident and father of a young child, the fund offered practical help as well as hope after months without a paycheck.
“It has been a huge blessing in a way I cannot describe,” he said.
Having completed a Master’s degree, Mark had begun transitioning to a new career when the pandemic lockdown led to the loss of his job. He spent hours on the phone attempting to reach the state unemployment office to no avail.
For someone used to working all of his adult life, he said, the situation was “embarrassing” and overwhelming.
“To struggle is one thing, but to struggle with a toddler is another,” said Mark.
An acquaintance suggested he contact the St. Ignatius committee, which approved his request – and even helped with an urgent household repair he couldn’t afford to make.
“I had a sink that wasn’t functional, since the water supply was leaking,” he said. “I’m not a plumber, so I shut it off. They sent someone over to fix it, with parts and labor, and that’s a great example of how wonderful they are.”
With committee members routinely checking on recipients’ well-being, the fund offers more than “one and done” help, he said.
“Like clockwork, they have followed up,” said Mark. “I appreciate that they are here for the long haul.”
Part of that long-term commitment includes shoring up reserves at nonprofits depleted by increased demand for supportive services. The fund recently issued a grant to Mary’s Cupboard, a Levittown-based food pantry operated by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS) that the parish has regularly helped to stock over the past few decades.
Ultimately, the St. Ignatius fund – which the committee broadly advertises to the surrounding area — is a means of evangelization, said Sullivan.
“It really makes our parish a welcoming presence in our community,” she said. “We hope we’re showing the world that we can be a light in the difficult times, and hopefully it will draw people back to the church.”
For more information on the St. Ignatius of Antioch Community Emergency Fund, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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