One Year Later: How D.C. Catholic Charities is Serving the Most Vulnerable During COVID-19

Catholic Charities sprang into action in March 2020, as the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. prompted stay-at-home orders in D.C. and neighboring states.

Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C.
Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. (photo: Matt Hadro / CNA/EWTN)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A year after the coronavirus pandemic forced closures of businesses and sent the national unemployment rate soaring, Catholic Charities D.C. is still serving the most vulnerable in the nation’s capital.

“Some people have really been hurt badly,” Fr. John Enzler, president and CEO at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., told CNA in an interview on March 24. “We try to encourage people who have not been hurt, not been affected, to make extra donations this year, and to do more this year to help people.”

Food insecurity has been an ongoing issue in the region and around the country; the number of families receiving weekly meals at Catholic Charities increased tenfold during the pandemic. Fr. Enzler said that a looming eviction crisis will soon become a massive problem.

“Our biggest concern right now is evictions,” he said. “It’s going to be a tsunami if we’re not careful. Because lots of people are not going to be able to pay their rent. And their jobs have been out for almost a year.”

“And the landlords deserve their money,” he added. “They weren’t ready for this, either. So we’ve got to find a way to solve that problem.”

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently extended the nationwide Eviction Moratoria until June 30. A March 2021 survey cited by the CDC estimated that more than four million adults believed they were at imminent risk of eviction, as they were behind on rent payments.

Catholic Charities sprang into action in March 2020, as the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. prompted stay-at-home orders in D.C. and neighboring states. With restaurants closed or open for takeout-only, many day workers – such dish washers, waiters, and food preppers – were out of work.

“We found that there was a whole group of people - mostly Latinos, frankly – in the District who were without jobs,” Fr. Enzler said. “Food became a big issue for us.”

While Catholic Charities had normally served weekly meals to around 50 families before the pandemic, the number of needy families soared to 500 or even 600 per week. Donors and local government grants supported the increase in food services, he said.

Mental health services are also critical, Fr. Enzler said, and Catholic Charities has still been able to provide services via Telehealth. The organization also provided emergency rent assistance and continued services for refugees and education for children with disabilities.

He also noted the success of the organization’s $100 million campaign begun two years ago. Through the generosity of donors and the commitment of young professionals to begin giving more than $83 monthly, the campaign has raised $99 million of its goal. “Young people are beginning to step up,” Fr. Enzler said.

While the campaign will certainly reach its goal in time, “it’s more important that we get more people involved,” Fr. Enzler said. The number of donors overall increased 10% in the past year, boosting the organization’s income.

The campaign will help improve services for immigrants and households in the poorest sections of D.C.