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Catholic Charities Mobile Response Center sees increased need due to the pandemic

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On a cold December day Catholic Charities Mobile Response Center — affectionately known as the Mercy Van — pulled up to a parking lot at the St. John Bosco Thrift Shop in Woodstock in the Shenandoah Valley. Inside the shop, the truck staff and volunteers prepared to distribute essential household and personal care items to low-income and homeless individuals and families who typically show up to receive the items.

Here, like elsewhere in the diocese, Catholic Charities is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of families in need of assistance. Since the onset of COVID-19, Mercy Van staff and volunteers are serving 25 percent more families in Woodstock. Where 80 people once lined up for supplies, now 100 do.

"Even in areas where the rate of COVID is low, the economic impact has been disastrous," said Cathy Hassinger, director of Community Services. "We have new clients living in their cars or in homeless shelters.

"We offer pre-packed bags with hygiene products, toilet paper, etc., as well as laundry detergent, and more personal care items such as diapers, feminine products, adult diapers as needed," Hassinger said. Oftentimes, she said, those waiting in line are desperate to receive the items, which are expensive to purchase and not covered by the program formerly known as food stamps. "Frequently we hear, ‘Oh thank goodness, there’s toilet paper.’ Sometimes they’ll shout that out to the people in line behind them."

"These people really have nothing," she said. "If we don’t provide it, they go without."

As the pandemic goes on, Catholic Charities has continued and expanded its outreach to low-income families.

The Mercy Van makes monthly trips to Woodstock and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Colonial Beach in the Northern Neck. It also has traveled to the diocesan WorkCamp. Last spring, the Mobile Response Center teamed up with the Gabriel Project to launch Operation Stork, delivering diapers to struggling families throughout the diocese. It also began providing supplies to a few homeless shelters. Recently it began working with the St. Matthew Family Outreach in Spotsylvania and its St. Faustina Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Overall, the Mercy Van is serving 170- 200 households a month, about 70 more than when the pandemic started.

To meet the increased need of more families, Catholic Charities is seeking volunteers to host donation drives in parishes or community groups. "We are turning over inventory at a much faster rate," Hassinger said.

Snider is deputy director of diocesan communications.

To help

Contact Catherine Hassinger at Catherine.hassinger@ccda.net.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021