BURLINGTON, Vermont — As the spread of the coronavirus forces restrictions on almost every sector of the economy, Catholic organizations are adapting amidst challenges to how they aid the most vulnerable.

In an effort to limit gatherings and prevent contagion, numerous political leaders have enacted bans on dining at restaurants and other establishments that serve food, prompting creative responses from organizations who offer meals to the food-insecure.

In Portland, Oregon, one organization opted to pass out to-go meals instead of hosting visitors inside. Volunteers and residents at Blanchet House of Hospitality worked together to provide packaged meals and coffee three times per day. The organization served 307 to-go meals on one morning last week, a spokesperson told Crux.

In addition to its meal services, Blanchet House offers 53 men a home, something which has not changed amidst the pandemic. However, residents are taking basic precautions to stay healthy around the house. 

They are being more diligent in washing their hands. A lot are staying in instead of going out,” Curtiss Goodwin, an employee who lives on site, said. 

Despite the poor circumstances, residents aren’t being negative, Goodwin said.

“People are thankful that we’re able to provide something. There’s nowhere else for anyone to really go,” he said. “The past week I’ve seen more people sleeping around our building.”

Blanchet House also pointed to local businesses who are responding to the shift in needs. While grocery stores like Trader Joe’s aren’t donating food as they have done in the past, Catholic schools closed in response to the virus have offered food they can no longer serve. 

In Vermont, health officials asked one homeless shelter, ANEW Place of Burlington, to relocate some of its residents who were at high risk of contracting COVID-19. While the shelter found hotel rooms to house the residents, the move separated them from the regular meals they received when living in community.

That’s when Jordan Easley, a staff member at the nearby St. Francis Xavier Parish, stepped in; he formed an email chain with other parishioners to provide meals for the residents in need. 

“This is where the opportunity to love our neighbors comes in,” he said. “It’s a super easy and super rewarding way to serve Christ in the poor.”

In addition to organizations seeking material support, some are asking volunteers to pitch in through advocacy work.

The St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker community in South Bend, Indiana,  asked friends of the organization to promote legislation that would shelter the local homeless population.

Everyone else has been advised to ‘hunker down,’ but these members of our community have nowhere to do so,” the organization said in an email. “The longer they remain on the street, the more vulnerable they are to infection.”

The Catholic Worker community asked locals for their help in demanding emergency funding for the homeless during the outbreak, and urged them to contact county officials. They also requested help pushing Congress to earmark funds for the homeless in the upcoming stimulus package, and encouraged constituents to contact their representatives in Washington.

“This is a graced opportunity to remember how deeply connected we are with one another,” the community said. “May this challenging season of our earthly pilgrimage draw us deeper into the heart of God’s compassionate love.”

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