In South Dakota, cash grants aim for solidarity amid the pandemic

In South Dakota, cash grants aim for solidarity amid the pandemic

Smithfield Foods pork plant in South Dakota was closed for weeks in the wake of its coronavirus outbreak. Credit: Kerem Yucel / AFP via Getty
Smithfield Foods pork plant in South Dakota was closed for weeks in the wake of its coronavirus outbreak. Credit: Kerem Yucel / AFP via Getty

.- On March 13, once the pandemic began shutting things down in South Dakota, Brianda Tapia lost her job. A few weeks later, her husband Alejandro lost his job at a pork processing plant. And then he tested positive for coronavirus.

“His symptoms were not too bad, but he had to stay in bed for some time. He recovered three weeks ago," Tapia said.

But with no work, the family was running out of food at home, and they weren’t sure what they’d do for their two boys.

And then, through a friend, Brianda and her husband found out that a Catholic organization was giving out cash to those who need it.

Since March 23, the Catholic Community Foundation for Eastern South Dakota, in partnership with the Diocese of Sioux Falls, has been providing grants to families affected by the pandemic. The foundation has given out more than $30,000 already, to at least 70 families, including 164 children. Grants average about $500 each.

Bishop Donald DeGrood of Sioux Falls issued a video at the end of April, promoting solidarity with those struggling amid the pandemic. He said that while the coronavirus has negatively impacted everyone, it has particularly troubled those without work.

“It’s important that we really focus on how we can tend to each other and care for each other,” DeGrood said in the video.

“Here is a chance for us to be brothers and sisters both in a time of need and in our time of generosity. I hope you consider helping us as we consider helping each other in this journey of life.”

“The COVID relief fund is for those who want to donate towards it, who can help others, and then the foundation will be a resource to parishes, and individuals, schools, any of our groupings on this eastside where there is need to apply for funding so we can try to match the gifts with the need,” the bishop added.

Kelly Bartmann, a gift planning specialist for Catholic Community Foundation, told CNA that the relief fund has been a blessing for members of the local community. She said the organization will give away money to those in need until funds run out, and she applauded the generosity of the patrons who have donated to the fund.

“We felt like we need to be there for people, to provide that feeling that someone cares. Even if we can only give them $500, we're hoping that that connects them a little bit with the idea that there are people out there that care and that are willing to step up and help them.”

“We're just very happy that people have really stepped up,” she said. “We have had gifts as small as $2 from some people and as large as $10,000, so it's impressive on both ends.”

Beneficiaries do not have to be Catholic to receive funds.

Father Kristopher Cowles, the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Sioux Falls, helped develop an approach to distributing funds. Parish priests are the first step to connecting families to grants. Pastors talk with families impacted by the virus - whether  they face unemployment, the loss of childcare, or the virus itself - and then they try to help.

“We haven't been able to really have Masses and have a lot of connection with people. I think it gives [priests] that connection … to feel like they're serving their purpose and just providing relationships for people and being the hands and feet of Jesus. I mean that's what we're here for,” Bartmann said.

Bartmann said the money has contributed to basic necessities, like rent, bills, medications, and food.

Families in Sioux Falls were hit hard when a Smithfield pork plant shut down on April 19. The plant is the ninth-largest pork producer in the United States, with around 3,700 employees; it faced a spike of coronavirus infections, involving at least 640 cases of COVID-19 and 1 related death.

The Tapia family was among those impacted by the shutdown.

A parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church alerted Fr. Cowles to the family’s needs. Brianda said the money they received was a huge relief while the family waited for work to resume.

Her husband began to work again on May 12.

Tapia expressed gratitude for the foundation and its contribution to her family but also the family’s Catholic faith, which has brought them closer to God.

“The money was a God-send, it was a surprise and a blessing, because we were running out of food for us and for our two boys (9 and 8),” she said.

"Our Catholic faith has been crucial for us. Faith is always important, but especially in these trial times, in which we feel closer and united to the Lord."

Tags: Diocese of Sioux Falls, Coronavirus

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