Tuesday, December 15, 2020
Linda Reeves - The Florida Catholic Palm Beach
MIAMI | The coronavirus pandemic has deepened hardships in every area of the Archdiocese of Miami, turning lives upside down and drowning families in hopelessness. But help has come, and more is on the way.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski’s traditional Heart of Christmas program, which reflects the true meaning of the season, will aid 205 families this year, bringing them a little support but also much more.
“The message of Christmas means that the poor are not forgotten, that the poor are loved,” said Archbishop Wenski in 2013, when the Advent tradition he started kicked off its second year.
The money itself — $250 this year — “won't give anybody longtime economic security,” the archbishop said at the time. “But hopefully, it will bring a measure of hope.”
This year marks the ninth year of Heart of Christmas. As he has done every year since 2012, the archbishop asked his pastors, school principals and heads of different archdiocesan agencies, including Catholic Charities, to submit the names and stories of any families or individuals experiencing great difficulties and needs.
Katie Blanco Bourdeau, chief development officer for the archdiocese and president of its Development Corporation, said applicants came flooding into her office by the Dec. 4, 2020 deadline. She pointed to the coronavirus pandemic for the greater numbers this year. South Florida has been a COVID-19 hotspot since the beginning of the year. Many families have been shattered, financially and by the loss of loved ones.
When the project launched in 2012, 40 families were assisted by Heart of Christmas. Last year, 168 individuals and families received help. This year, the archbishop “agreed to fund all applicants,” Bourdeau said.
“The program has grown over the years,” she added. “The need is certainly greater than the resources available.”
HEART OF CHRISTMAS
Who is among the list of Heart of Christmas candidates this year?
A single mother with two autistic children who works two part-time jobs. A father who contracted COVID-19 in June and has been in the hospital on a ventilator for the past six months, with mounting medical bills and a family to feed. A Hollywood family with six children in the household who moved to South Florida from the Bahamas after 2019's Hurricane Dorian destroyed their home. After settling in and finding work, the father lost his job due to the pandemic.
The heartbreaking stories go on and on.
Each recipient will get a $250 gift card. The gift cards will be sent to the parishes, schools or entities that sent in the application, and then they will hand-deliver the gift cards to the recipients prior to Christmas, said Bourdeau.
“It isn’t possible without the generosity of the people,” she said, adding that the funds for Heart of Christmas come through private donations.
She praised the many generous archdiocesan donors who give time after time when there is a need, putting their faith in action and becoming the hands and heart of Christ.
In March, generous donors contributed to the archdiocese’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund, created by the Development Office. The fund was established in anticipation of the economic fallout of the pandemic, but no one realized that COVID would continue into 2021, bringing with it more tragedy. To date, $260,000 has been raised to assist more than 250 families.
Maria Romero, 61, a parishioner of St. Mark in Southwest Ranches, received aid through the emergency fund to pay medical bills. Her family’s business was forced to shut down due to the pandemic. Romero and her husband of 32 years used their entire savings to keep the business going and pay the staff.
The Romeros lost their home and are living with one of their four adult children. On top of the financial and material loss, Maria was diagnosed with mouth cancer and endured intensive surgery.
“We have received punches from the left and from the right,” said a very thankful Maria. “My insurance didn’t pay for all my medical bills. I am beyond grateful for the help that the archdiocese gave me. I didn’t know what I was going to do."
Veronica, a single mother living in Miami who didn’t want her full name revealed, is raising three children ages 8, 13 and 16. She received emergency relief from the archdiocese two months ago after losing her cleaning job due to the pandemic.
“The archdiocese helped me with three months' rent,” said the mother, a parishioner of St. Mary Magdalen in Sunny Isles Beach. A local food program helps her with food while she continues to look for work. “It has been very difficult for me. I am thankful for the assistance I have received. I have a lot of angels,” she said. “I am thankful to God.”
Carlos Mendez, 45, a native of Brazil, came to Florida over six years ago. He is a parishioner of St. Ambrose in Deerfield Beach. Married 15 years, he and his wife have a boy, nearly 2, and a girl, 7.
Mendez lost his job and couldn’t pay the rent or put food on the table. He began working for Uber and Lyft days and nights, making next to nothing and in fear that he might get the virus or bring it home to his wife and children. “My family is the most important thing to me,” he said. “I want to protect them.”
Friends and people from St. Ambrose reached out to help the family with food. Through the archdiocese’s emergency fund, he received six months' rent.
“I live in a very hard situation,” he said. “In Brazil, I have my family. Here I have no one. My greatest fear is to be on the streets with my family.”
Mendez continues to hope and pray for a job. “God is on my side,” he said. He has applied for his dream job with a charter airplane company. A graduate of Broward College, he is positive about landing the opportunity and picking up the pieces for a brighter future in 2021.
“I don’t have the words to thank the archdiocese for the help,” he said, pausing to hold back emotions. “I only have tears.”