PARKERSBURG - Established in 1931, Catholic Charities West Virginia, with regional headquarters here, is the largest non-governmental social service agency in the state, serving more than 700,000 annually.
The regional office, in the Community Service Agencies offices at the Volunteer Action Center, serves Wood, Wirt, Jackson, Roane, Calhoun, Ritchie, Pleasants, Tyler and Wetzel counties. A satellite office is in New Martinsville.
"Many people are surprised by how much we do. We offer food pantries, try to meet basic needs, provide emergency assistance for utilities, assistance in getting prescriptions, advocate on behalf of our clients, offer a soup kitchen, provide disaster relief services," said Deborah Shaffer, Parkersburg regional director.
Arlis Miller, a coordinator for the Stone Soup Kitchen, prepares for the lunches served every Wednesday at 11 a.m. in the St. Francis Xavier Church Parish Hall.
"As a pilot project we are now operating a mobile food pantry which goes into the more-rural areas where folks don't have access or can't get to grocery stores. We go to them," Shaffer said.
Shaffer has been director for about 1.5 years.
"We work with the community to identify needs and whenever we can to help. We are glad to try to do what we can," she said.
* The Regional and Outreach Office is in the Community Services offices inside the Volunteer Action Center, 521 Market St., Parkersburg, 304-424-3457, extension 130.
* Catholic Charities West Virginia, Parkersburg Region serves Wood, Calhoun, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Tyler, Wetzel and Wirt counties.
* The percentage of persons living in poverty in Wood County is 16.2 percent. Of the counties served by Catholic Charities, Parkersburg Regional Office, the largest percentage of persons living in poverty is 21.6 percent and that is in Roane County.
Shaffer said the agency has been receiving calls from customers of the city of Parkersburg water system who have received water shutoff notices.
"Some of these folks, especially the elderly who are living on fixed incomes, don't know what they are going to do. Part of our mission is to advocate on our clients' behalf. We plan to go to a city council meeting and make the council members aware of how much difficulty the increased water rates are causing," Shaffer said.
The Stone Soup Kitchen is another source of help.
The kitchen serves a hot mid-day meal every Wednesday at 11 a.m. at St. Francis Xavier Parish Center in downtown Parkersburg. Meals are prepared and served on-site or delivered to shut-in neighbors at home.
This program has been ongoing for about six years and feeds between 90-150 a week.
"We primarily get folks who do not have a whole lot, but we serve them, no questions asked. We have people who generously donate and volunteer to help out; many of the volunteers work week after week," Shaffer said. "We also have student groups come to help out; it teaches them to give back to their community, and they get the chance to see there are others in need. They seem to enjoy participating," she said.
Homemaker Case Management services are provided through Catholic Charities; those services are housed in separate offices but still fall under the same agency. The contact for that local office is 304-422-6116.
"There are a lot of elderly and disabled who need that extra help to be able to stay in their homes," Shaffer said.
"We serve everyone; there are people who ask if you have to be Catholic to be eligible for services; you do not. The agency is here to improve the community and people's lives and we believe our faith is exhibited through our actions," she said.
As a pilot project, the charity has been offering mobile food pantry services.
"We just started that last year with grant funding from the Wal-Mart Feed America Foundation and Promise Congregation of St. Joseph and the Sisters of St. Joseph Charitable Foundation provided support also. It's an outreach program to areas that have been targeted by the state as needing this service. Rural areas where there may not be grocery stores or the residents there don't have access to them," she said.
One of the recently visited areas was Newark in Wirt County.
A van makes one trip a month to each county. With the aid of trained volunteers, the food items are set up like a store. Much of the food donations were gathered through efforts of the Knights of Columbus.
"They collected over 7,000 pounds of food for us nationally," Shaffer said. "We also have grants to purchase food and private donations to use. Other local groups, social, civic, churches, students help out."
Volunteer training is set for March 7 and 14 at the Greenwood Fire Department in Doddridge County. More information is available at the Parkersburg office.
Catholic Charities raised $10,000 in 2013 to sponsor a Habitat for Humanity home. The agency collected and distributed water and hand sanitizers in Charleston, she said.
"Part of my job also includes disaster relief coordination. I had only been on the job 10 days when the derecho hit our area. It was a real test," Shaffer said.
Catholic Charities distributed backpacks in New Martinsville. "We distributed about 500 backpacks which the charities paid for and the community donated supplies," Shaffer said.
The agency participated in a Secret Santa project in New Martinsville, which provided Christmas gifts for 325 children.
"Where there is a need, we try to be there," she said.