Michael Melara, diocesan Catholic Charities CEO and executive director of the Onondaga County agency, sorts diapers at a warehouse in Houston as part of hurricane relief efforts in September 2017. “We actually do our best work when things are hard and challenging,” Melara said recently. “We have a track record of working through hard times and being faithful to the mission and keeping people safe.”(Photo courtesy Chris Curry)
By Renée K. Gadoua | Contributing writer
Even if it’s not business as usual during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Catholic Charities of the Syracuse Diocese plans to stick with its mission.
“Our mission is intact and indisputable when it comes to serving those members of our community who are most vulnerable and in greatest need, regardless of their religious background,” said Michael Melara, diocesan Catholic Charities CEO and executive director of the Onondaga County agency. “We exist to serve those who are poor and struggling. We try to bring immediate comfort and relief to people in pain, instill hope, be an instrument of change. We all do this in a spirit of God’s love and compassion.”
On Monday, three days after several counties in the diocese announced states of emergency because of the coronavirus, Catholic Charities suspended all group meetings, including culinary classes, parent education classes, and youth group activities. They also suspended all staff meetings and internal agency group meetings until further notice.
Nearly 1,600 Catholic Charities employees serve 100,000 people a year. Programs and services include marriage and family counseling, psychotherapy, adoption services, emergency services, parent aid services, residential facilities, nutrition programs, and youth activities.
In Syracuse, Catholic Charities operates refugee services and a men’s shelter. The shelter, with 99 beds and overflow capacity of 10, is typically full during winter. It remained open as of Tuesday, and staff has protocols in place should a shelter guest show coronavirus symptoms.
Melara anticipates some refugees who are ill may go to the resettlement office rather than a doctor. “That presents an additional challenge for us to continue to welcome everyone,” he said.
Programs are limiting in-person client meetings in favor of phone or email contact. When staff must meet face-to-face with clients, they are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols that include questions to assess their health before visiting.
“We actually do our best work when things are hard and challenging,” Melara said. “We have a track record of working through hard times and being faithful to the mission and keeping people safe.”
This crisis is exceptionally hard, Melara conceded, adding that Catholic Charities employees are built to do hard things. “I’ve tried to impress upon the staff of Catholic Charities that in the last several years we have had to deal with several challenges outside our control,” he said. “I’m always reminded everything is temporary except God’s love.”