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Parish Engagement Program at Our Lady of Refuge pivots in uncertain times to continue serving those most in need

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First Published by Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County

Catholic Charities’ Parish Engagement Program is tackling poverty through community building, direct services, and personal connections between volunteers and those seeking pathways to self-sufficiency.

However, with social-distancing practices in place to avoid the spread of COVID-19, the program is now pivoting to find creative solutions to serve all those who seek help.

“We are committed to continuing our critical services to the families and individuals who are most impacted by this virus,” said Fr. Jon Pedigo, Catholic Charities’ Director for Advocacy and Community Engagement. “Our Catholic Charities’ volunteers and staff are still working on the frontlines to meet the need during the pandemic.”

A drive-through system for delivering food to families and individuals in need is temporarily replacing the usual Tuesday evening community marketplace at Our Lady of Refuge (OLR) parish in San Jose. Additional parishes have joined OLR to help meet the need by setting up drive-through food delivery sites.

Prior to the shelter-in-place order, the outside courtyard and parish hall at OLR was transformed each Tuesday evening to welcome anyone seeking help. Neighborhood families “shopped” with dignity for free produce and groceries from Second Harvest Food Bank. Parish volunteers connected with those seeking services and began long-term relationships to accompany them on their journeys. Working with Catholic Charities programs and our community partners, services provided included a hot nutritious meal, and access to free resources for immigration legal services, referrals for housing, and medical care through Gardner Health Services.

Since opening in October 2019, the OLR program has reached 550 households through fresh food distribution (representing nearly 2,500 people), served 500 hot meals weekly, provided service navigation to 370 individuals, conducted over 120 immigration consultations, and made 100 medical referrals.

Beyond critical services, the program is successful because of a prevailing spirit of hope and a commitment to respecting the dignity of all who come for help.

According to Fr. Hugo Rojas, Pastor of Our Lady of Refuge, “Our parish needed a lot of help, but our parish staff could not address the multiple needs of our people and the neighborhood.  The Parish Engagement Program stepped in and within six short months, nothing less than a miracle occurred.

“People are being fed, getting immigration help, being seen by a doctor and getting fresh food and a warm meal,” Fr. Hugo said. “Before Catholic Charities did their training, we had only a handful of people working in social ministries and now we have 40 – 50 different people coming to help every week. Our Vietnamese, Latino, and Filipino communities are working together. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done in our community but I am confident that Catholic Charities’ program will be there to help us meet those challenges.”