By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Funding from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation is a welcome contribution that will allow the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to continue to be one of the area’s leaders in providing assistance to the homeless and needy during the coronavirus pandemic, executive director Michael Acaldo said.

Along with the $50,000 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Acaldo also announced fast food chain Chick-fil-A donated 10,000 sandwiches to help supplement the agency’s Grab n Go meal program. The fast food company began donating 400 sandwiches daily beginning May 1 and continued into early June.

Acaldo said the agency  distributed 30,000 meals in the first two months of the pandemic.

“The (grant and food donations) are critical dollars needed to keep things moving along,” Acaldo said. “It’s a lot of (meals), making a lot of impact.

“It’s been wonderful getting meals to needy families.”

Acaldo said the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Foundation grant funds will assist in funding the meal programs but will also be used to help pay a staff that has been putting in extraordinarily long hours and also fund the pharmacy that provides medication to those in need, including the homeless population

Coronavirus concerns forced St. Vincent to temporarily suspend its volunteer force, resulting in staff working overtime, especially at the agency’s two shelters for men. Typically, those shelters are available 14 hours a day, with volunteers working along staff members, but the two shelters are now staffed 24 hours a day during the pandemic with no volunteer assistance.

“It’s a marvelous grant, made available through the generosity of Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Louisiana,” Acaldo said. “We are so appreciative of it. It’s a super award and helping keep the doors open.”

He said the donations are critical because he fears July and August will be challenging, as funds from the federal government payroll protection program and increased unemployment checks begin to run out. He said  many people facing potential financial challenges could experience difficulty paying the rent and potentially face eviction.

“They are in a tough spot,” Acaldo said. “If businesses do not reopen, it could be difficult.”