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Catholic Charities Helpline Helps New Yorkers Through COVID-19

By Jim Sliney Jr

When you visit the Catholic Charities of New York homepage you’ll be greeted by the HELPLINE number. That number has been there to help New Yorkers ask for help for a long time. All kinds of help too! It is a central point from which any New Yorker’s need can be addressed. And it’s working.

After Telemundo promoted the number to its viewers, call volume jumped to over 1,200 calls in just one day – a sign of how much need there was, and still is. On an average day the Helpline gets about 80 calls (not including calls that go separately to the immigration hotline) but sometimes that number is closer to 200. The needs of our fellow New Yorkers are real.

Running a helpline during a time like this is, no surprise, exceedingly challenging. Many of the people calling in have experienced an overwhelmed system where they can’t reach a person or get a clear answer, which is why staff at the helpline make a special effort to answers calls when they come in and speak to callers one-on-one.

Debra Presti-Eschen, Case Management Director for Catholic Charities Community Services who oversees the Helpline said the staff, “are all very committed to the callers and know how important it is to convey that help is out there and they are not alone.” Staff keep each other up-to-date with current information and troubleshooting tips to maximize efficiency. And when a caller has an issue a staffer can’t address on the phone, they take names, emails and phone numbers to get back to people with updates. Their commitment to their mission is laudable.

The Helpline has also shed an important light on precisely what those needs are during Coronavirus. Calls covered issues like rental assistance, issues with the stimulus check, services for undocumented New Yorkers, job loss, applying for Unemployment Insurance and pandemic unemployment-assistance, cash assistance and so much more. But operators discovered one need that rose above the rest – food insecurity.

The elderly who are at higher risk for complications from the Coronavirus are an example of some who cannot safely visit the grocery store. Food insecurity was a problem before Coronavirus, and programs like SNAP were there to help as well as food pantries that operated throughout the archdiocese. But those programs don’t function as well when those in need cannot safely leave the house – doing so could have deadly consequences.

Catholic Charities provides accurate and timely information and referrals and will help advocate for the services required by a family. Our crisis experts help individuals and families plan long-term solutions to immediate problems through counseling and other forms of assistance.

The road to wellness and recovery in our beautiful State and City is a long one. For the safety of all, staying indoors and following hand washing and face covering protocols are essential. Like the arrival of Spring, as our home begins to open slowly, we will continue to need support. Catholic Charities of New York is there to provide it.

If you need help that is not related to food, call Catholic Charities at 888-744-7900.

If you need food related assistance, call Catholic Charities at 646-457-9730 or send an email.

Stay strong New York. Catholic Charities is here to help.

Catholic Charities is responding to the needs of our neighbors during the 
COVID-19 pandemic.

For Help Call 888-744-7900