Catholic Charities receives $100,000 grant to assist area COVID-19 impacted families

Sister Michelle Fernandez, SCTJM, is director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria has received a $100,000 grant to assist families impacted economically by the COVID-19 pandemic with housing and/or utilities payments.

The grant is from the third round of disbursements generated by the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund (ICRF). Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria is among 31 nonprofit organizations receiving grants from $6.275 million in new funding announced May 20.

Qualifying families must live in one of nine counties designated by ICRF. They include Champaign, Fulton, LaSalle, Livingston, McDonough, McLean, Peoria, Rock Island, and Tazewell.

“It’s a great opportunity to help those in need during these difficult times we’re going through,” said Sister Michelle Fernandez, SCTJM, director of Catholic Charities.

Applications for assistance are now being accepted online through a link at or by calling (815) 414-2097 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays.

Each qualifying family is eligible to receive funding for utilities — one month’s bill and up to $250 to catch up on payments since March 1. For rent or mortgage help, they may also receive up to $550 and up to $250 for past payments since March 1. Applicants may also receive first month’s rent on new leases up to $550.


The Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund was established by United Way of Illinois and the Alliance of Illinois Community Foundations in collaboration with the Office of the Governor. The fund has raised more than $30.5 million from 2,800 donors since its launch on March 26.

Sister Michelle answered a small questionnaire regarding the fund several weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised when she was contacted and learned the amount of the grant.

The check arrived on May 26 and funds will be distributed starting Friday, May 29, and continuing through July 31.

Sister Michelle said about 10 applications are being received daily online or via phone in the first days since the grant was announced.

Because the grant is classified as an emergency response, the funding has to be distributed within eight weeks. The application process will be open until July 31.

For this round of funding, ICRF used unemployment data, COVID-19 cases, and the percentage of vulnerable populations within the county to prioritize 57 counties in greatest need of support throughout the state.

Contributions to the fund are invited by visiting


Meanwhile, Sister Michelle said that other Catholic Charities outreaches have continued through the pandemic shutdowns. While the St. Nicholas “Charity on Wheels” van has not been making its usual rounds across the diocese since March, the agency has teamed with OSF HealthCare nurses and the 211 social service Hope Network to distribute gift cards.

The Bessette Center, located at 1825 N.E. Adams St. in Peoria, has maintained its food pantry and soup kitchen services curbside, as has the St. Patrick Food Pantry in Tolono. The agency’s counseling program has continued remotely by phone or via “car counseling,” in which the client meets a counselor in a church parking lot, for example, so they can see one another and talk safely from their respective vehicles.

The Guardian Angel Baby Pantry, a collaboration of Catholic Charities and St. Michael the Archangel Parish, is now located in the OSF Center for Health in Streator. Through a partnership with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the outreach continues to distribute diapers.

Catholic Charities also continues to sponsor the St. Vincent de Paul Helpline for Peoria and McLean counties. Persons in need of assistance may call (309) 677-7696 and will be given further direction.

Finally, Sister Michelle said that Catholic Charities has applied for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide additional help with rent and utilities, primarily in counties that don’t have a St. Vincent de Paul Society conference.

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