Pregnant, jobless, and a single mother with three children in tow and one stuck across the border, Natalie entered our women’s shelter in El Centro ahead of the pandemic winter.
In this summer of reemergence, she now leaves for a new beginning. When COVID-19 took hold in California’s Imperial Valley, it made already-difficult conditions dire for the region’s farmworkers. They are essential to agriculture, crucial to the community. And yet they are the most vulnerable to poverty, homelessness, and, during the pandemic, sickness or death. “Imperial County’s farmworkers have long been plagued by insufficient housing options, low wages and barriers to healthcare,” the Times of San Diego reported.
“COVID-19 worsened those conditions and the agricultural industry has since seen major outbreaks statewide.” For Natalie, the work dried up completely, leaving her and her children in limbo between Mexico and America. Soon, a new kind of labor ensued.
Meet Catholic Charities’ national network of religious sisters bringing boots-on-the-ground relief to asylum seekers facing dire circumstances in San Diego and Imperial counties. Almost instantly after the memo from Sister Donna Markham (CEO of CCUSA) went out, the responses poured in. Sisters across the U.S. packed their bags for the border, where a crisis is spiraling. They took planes from Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, and elsewhere. They drove hours from Northern California. Some of them connected in El Paso. Others carpooled from Los Angeles. One recently returned from administration in Rome. Meanwhile, asylum seekers come to California from regions in deep conflict—Central America, Mexico, South America, Haiti, Africa, and the Middle East…
The saying goes that you need to walk a mile in someone’s shoes to understand their experiences and perspectives. Nadine Toppozada has lapped that mantra many times over when it comes to assisting refugees and immigrants arriving at Catholic Charities of San Diego.
As Director of Refugee and Immigrant Services at our Mission Gorge Place offices, Nadine is one of the first people our participants meet after they enter the U.S. Her path to Catholic Charities traces through several of the troubled regions from which many of them have fled.
When Rosa went into surgery for cervical cancer, she wondered whether she would awaken in Heaven or on Earth. How her strength, faith and shelter led to the latter.
It started with a dull but worsening ache in her lower abdomen. Within weeks, Rosa was bleeding profusely—beyond what’s expected of menopause.
As she lay on the floor of her home in Imperial County, staring up at the ceiling, Rosa knew she needed help. Her bed sheets were ruined with blood. Her mind, racing; her body, throbbing. She was unable to work and running out of money.
Injured and denied disability benefits, this former goldmine worker spent five years homeless in Calexico until finding Our Lady of Guadalupe. The only homeless shelter in the area that helped him get back on his feet.
“There’s a lot of gold back in those hills,” says Robert, a native of Westmorland, California, in the Imperial Valley.
In 1990, a few years after one of the largest goldmines in the U.S. opened roughly 40 miles east of his hometown, Robert took a job as a haul truck operator at the site near Glamis, California. “The truck’s seat was 36 feet high; it hauled 200 tons at a time,” he recalled. “The tires alone were 12 feet high.”
When Antoinette Fallon accepted a part-time, temporary job at Catholic Charities’ Rachel’s Women’s Center in downtown San Diego, she was new to the organization but she was not new to the work. Relocated from New York with decades of experience in social services, she figured 30-days at Rachel’s would put her experience to good use until she decided what she wanted to do next.
Catholic Charities is Recognized by the City of Chula Vista as Champions for our community Service During the COVID-19 Pandemic
CCDSD’s team is committed to serve our communities.
We wish you and your loved ones a blessed year ahead, and pray that it be a healthy, safe, and peaceful one for all!
Our Purpose – Natural disaster and other emergencies can happen at a moment’s notice, as we have experienced with Covid-19. As part of the Listos California emergency preparedness campaign, our goal was to reach vulnerable members of our community and give them helpful information on how to prepare for these emergencies. There was no better time for our community to receive information on how to prepare in case of an emergency than the year 2020. Our helpful guides gave easy step by step instructions on how to prepare our families and stay connected. It has been a challenging year for many of us.
Unfazed Realism, Unwavering Optimism
It was Tuesday, November 17, 2020. Our team was on our daily 8:30 am call. Since the pandemic started, back in March, the Directors and leads at Catholic Charities have been meeting daily, discussing any updates or issues any of our programs have been facing. It keeps us all connected and aware of what the different programs face with clients, keeping safe and running programs during a pandemic. Antoinette Fallon, our Director of Homeless Services in San Diego brought up an email she had just sent out that morning. A homeless woman who just had a baby by cesarean was being released by the hospital into our care (under one of our grants with the hospital) to oversee her hotel stay for 2 weeks. This was different, most of the clients released from the hospital were homeless but, this was the first woman with a newborn coming into our care. Antoinette’s request was simple and sincere. Her email read “I’m wondering if we can pool some resources from within our own organization to assist.”
While the police were escorting Ivonne out of a downtown San Diego homeless shelter, they were alarmed by the chilling context of her cries. She was screaming, gasping, battered, and pleading for help.
At home in New York, his best memories became haunting, so Henry started running, trying to stay in front of his thoughts, memories and everything that took his very breathe away. Texas couldn’t heal his heart. Vegas couldn’t distract his mind. A random bus ticket brought him to San Diego, where he now lives and works—and where he almost died. Grief and loss had jettisoned Henry across the country, into countless churches, through severe depression, to attempted suicide.
I was inspired and amazed that as fear and sickness spread throughout Imperial County, so did faith, food, and a blueprint to feed the hungry and the most vulnerable. With the inevitable winter surge of COVID19 approaching, this forgotten corner of California needs another miracle.
In the harrowing fight against hunger, however, there was a miraculous reprieve. Since the crest of the first coronavirus wave, Catholic Charities’ Emergency Food Distribution Network Plus (EFDN+) has provided 312,981 pounds of food or 260,818 meals to Imperial County along with the infrastructure to unite eight different ministries in feeding the thousands of residents facing food insecurity.
As you are sitting around this holiday weekend, things unfortunately look a lot different with families not traveling to be together, the weight of the pandemic still heavy on all of us. Think back to last year, before any of us knew what COVID-19 was before social distancing was a common phrase. Back to when your family was gathering and celebrating together. Now, while you are smiling and reminiscing about last year, I ask you to put yourself in Bianca’s shoes.
It is two days before Thanksgiving, everyone is working to tie up loose ends before the long weekend of food and family gatherings, there is excitement in the air and people around the office are smiling, giddy as the final hours are counted down.
Now, you are Bianca, sitting at your desk, your hand trembling, holding a pink slip. How did this happen? Work was going well, no complaints, no issues. The past year you have been working hard, working overtime being a team player. Now the reality sets in, with the downsizing, the newer employees were the first to go. Click Here to Read Bianca’s Story
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw- that it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams at us so loud, finally awakening and rekindling us.
A year the world changed around us and forced us to change how we interact with each other as fellow humans. A year that gave us the opportunity to band together, help neighbors, and become the “Good Samaritan.”
I have been at Catholic Charities for 2 years now and have learned more about our communities in the last 9 months, than in the 20 years living in San Diego. I have been so overwhelmed with gratitude and faith in mankind as we fight to keep each other safe and work together in solidarity for what is right. For what is just. For what is kind. We are walking side-by-side with the most vulnerable who have been hit hardest – those who have lost their jobs, their businesses, and even their loved ones to COVID-19 and the related economic fallout.
SAN MARCOS — Cal State San Marcos School of Nursing has partnered with Catholic Charities in San Diego to provide students with 135 clinical hours required to graduate and become licensed nurses. Click here for the full story by The Coast News Group.
“FOR I WAS HUNGRY AND YOU GAVE ME FOOD”, MATTHEW 25:35
In response to a rapidly changing reality due to COVID-19, at the Catholic Charities’ Board meeting on Thursday, March 12th, Bishop McElroy called upon Catholic Charities to organize an effort to increase accessibility for vulnerable populations experiencing food insecurity: low-income families and homebound individuals. As defined in our mission, Catholic Charities
Ndizeye can remember the day nearly two decades ago when he was forced to flee his home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The soldiers. The guns. The shouting. The crying.
“We knew what was about to happen if we stayed,” he says…
For many refugees, home is a place they may never return. See resettlement through the eyes of a DRC refugee.
“Why are you up so early?” Edgar asks.
I tell him that I want to experience a day in his life and share his story. Upon translation, Edgar nods in approval. Martin smiles and takes a slow sip of coffee.
“People can see how hard it is to work in the fields,” Edgar says. “And how little we make.”
In this California border town, migrant farm workers line the streets at night in hopes of getting hired for the day. If they’re chosen, the bus leaves now and work starts by sunrise.
By 7 a.m., Mrs. P will have a complete coffee and tea station ready for the women waiting in line outside of Rachel’s Women’s Center in downtown San Diego.
Like those who will soon file through the doors, Mrs. P is homeless.
She spends her nights on the sidewalk directly across F Street from Rachel’s. It takes two trips and two signal cycles to bring her belongings.
In an epicenter of America’s homeless crisis, the streets are “swept” of living humans each morning – where homeless women go, and how they got here.
When I was asked to share my story with our community, I was really excited. I immediately knew where to begin. I am 14 years, 10 months and 14 days clean. I am a Housing and Resource Specialist at Catholic Charities’ Rachel’s Women’s Center and an activist for drug policy change. Today, I am paying it forward by helping those who come after me. I am proud of every step I’ve taken that has led me to where I am today. Yet, sharing how I got here terrified me. I would need to look back at who I was, how I showed up at Rachel’s Women’s Center on the most desperate day of my life. I wanted things to change, but that would mean I had to ask for help. I was scared no one would listen.
My story is inspired by the search for a better life. It’s a story about creating a better future for my family—as well as being able to pay it forward to other families. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s go back to the beginning.
In 1998, trying to escape the prejudice and limitations my family faced in Russia, we set off for a new life in the United States. Not sure what to expect, I found myself in a new country, speaking a new language and living a completely different life than I was accustomed to. During my first few years in America, I struggled, struggled with the language, fitting in, trying to find a job that was the right fit for me.
Checking myself into a homeless shelter is one of the toughest decisions I ever made. It is facing your reality head-on, it is very emotional, especially as a man. You’re expected to always be strong. Always provide. Always figure it out. It didn’t matter. I had spent a week on the street. I had been cold, scared, hungry, humiliated and was desperate.
Catholic Charities took me as I was and listened to me. They showed compassion when I broke down and provided me with the strength to get up.
Turmoil. Conflict. Chaos. These are just a few words that come to mind when I was asked to share my story. My story begins 34 years ago, I lost 17 members of my family as a result of the Afghanistan crisis. People I loved and cared about were gone too soon, I didn’t have time to even process what I’d lost, I was fighting to stay alive. I knew I needed to escape my country.
I faced a long and hard journey ahead of me. I escaped to Pakistan and shortly after I fled to Hamburg, Germany. It was there where I finally saw a gleam of hope: Catholic Charities’ Refugee Services
Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego’s (CCDSD) Foster Grandparent Program celebrated their 46th Annual Recognition Event on October 18, 2019 in the beautiful hall at St. Pius X Catholic Church. It was a lovely celebration filled with words of appreciation and gratitude for the Foster Grandparents and their service to our communities, children, and youth. The event was well attended by CCDSD administration and the programs 20 school sites.
Mr. Patrick Ajapmou was granted asylum on August 21, 2019 from Judge Ana Partida at Otay Mesa Detention Center, who ruled from the bench, after listening to compelling and gruesome testimony regarding Patrick’s physical and sexual abuse at the hands of prison guards on three separate periods of detention in his home country of Cameroon.
Imagine your first experience in America being in a new country and not trying to figure out where you will stay or where to get your items from baggage claim but sitting in a cold, unfriendly building waiting for a complete stranger to decide your family’s fate.
Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego (CCDSD) celebrates its centennial year in 2020! CCDSD is an agency that has long served the basic needs of San Diego’s most vulnerable people, and each year continues to expand its reach. Over the next year, the agency plans to open 20 new food distribution locations in parishes throughout the Diocese of San Diego in hopes of bringing food to the people who need it most.
The meaning of the word “respite” has a deep personal significance for Sara, a woman who sought out refuge and safety at Catholic Charities women’s emergency shelter in Imperial County called House of Hope. This shelter, which serves as a respite from the streets to unattached women and single mothers, offers 24 beds (20 adult beds and 4 cribs) as well as references to employment, medical doctors, job training, counseling, and social services to women from all over Imperial County looking for shelter and above all hope.
Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego (CCDSD) is bringing more food to more people in need—not just in September during Hunger Action Month, but for the future of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
This full-day training will cover the substantive law and practical skills necessary to represent clients fearing return to their countries of origin in defensive removal proceedings. We will provide an overview of the U.S. immigration system and discuss the legal and procedural requirements for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture claims before an immigration judge.
Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego enters its centennial year in 2020, a milestone perhaps more profoundly expressed in lives touched. Over the years, our agency has supported hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of underserved people in its mission to build communities of dignity and respect for all. We will view a snapshot of the local and regional impact of Catholic Charities—and our plans for the future.
Officials say this year’s point-in-time count numbers reflect changes to the process made at the direction of federal officials. Meanwhile, a separate stat shows homelessness could be more than triple the number found in the count.
“I’m a U.S. citizen, born and raised in Alabama and Georgia,” said Caldwell, 40, during an interview from a Tijuana shelter, where he has been living with his family for the past month.