‘It’s Life or Death’: How Catholic Charities Serves the Vulnerable Amidst the Extreme Cold

The ‘polar vortex’ has returned this week, bringing extremely cold temperatures to many parts of the country, especially the Upper Midwest. On Wednesday, temperatures in Chicago reached a low of -23 (with -49 wind chills) and wind chills in parts of Minneapolis and North Dakota were recorded at -60 or less.

In the midst of these record-breaking lows, there are many homeless and vulnerable people for whom this extreme cold is a life or death situation. The Catholic Church plays a vital role in such times, with organizations such as Catholic Charities working overtime to ensure the health and safety of the most vulnerable in our society.

Monsignor Michael Boland, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, stopped by Morning Air® this week to share how they are helping the homeless and needy during this dangerously cold weather.

“These are really challenging times, and we’ve really opened up a lot of our centers to be warming centers, both in the city and suburbs of the Archdiocese. We just try to look at them differently, and think this is a crisis,” Msgr. Boland said.

“We really tried to move a lot of our staff out to the areas where a lot of the homeless are, those who are really struggling. In Chicago, Catholic Charities has what we call our ‘mobile outreach.’ So on a normal night we have five vans that go through the city of Chicago to pick up the homeless and bring them either to shelters or to warming centers. So we’ve tried to increase that during this period of time.”

But it isn’t just the homeless that Catholic Charities is serving. Many are unable to leave their homes due to the cold, and so Catholic Charities goes to them to ensure they have what they need to get through the extreme cold. Msgr. Boland told Morning Air hosts John Harper and Glen Lewerenz, “We also do well-being checks and bring food to people in their homes who have no food. We have dinners that we serve five times a week in the downtown area and about six other locations. So we’re going to have all those meals and find people to come in.”

With 170 locations throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago, Catholic Charities responds to more than 3,000 calls for assistance per month. And although the need increases during times of extreme cold, those at Catholic Charities remain focused on honoring the dignity of every person they serve.

“People love coming to Catholic Charities shelters, because they’re very well-run,” said Msgr. Boland. “When these nights go on, we try to strongly encourage them. We just had a lot of snow, and now we have this frigid cold, and it’s going to be -40 or -50 with the wind chill. It’s life and death, and that’s what I keep trying to tell our staff. It’s not an option, we have to do as much as we can to encourage them and to have them make our places available to them.”

So what can you do to help those in need amidst the frigid weather? Msgr. Boland offered a few suggestions.

“First and foremost, remember in prayer those who are really struggling in the tough parts of our system, in the margins of society,” he said. “People can always volunteer. One of the great things we see is when families volunteer. It’s always a great thing to get a chance to do something together and live out their faith.”

“The best way [to donate] would be to go to our web page at catholiccharities.net and it lists ways that they might be able to donate but it also lists all of our services,” he explained. “Whether they want to volunteer or whether they want to donate, we have 170 locations that accept anything. They accept winter clothes, they accept food, and we’ll get it to the right places to be able to help the people. But this is the time when I think we all need to think of our neighbors, and think of those who are struggling.”

Listen to the full conversation with Msgr. Michael Boland below:

Morning Air can be heard weekdays from 7:00 – 9:00 a.m. Eastern/4:00 – 6:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.