The Who, What and Why of Catholic Charities

On September 14, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Youngstown, hosted its fall Lunch and Learn at St. Columba Parish Hall. Presented by Wendy Rusback and Nickie Ostick of Catholic Charities Regional Agency, this event was titled “Catholic Charities: Who, What, Why” and focused on the services, procedures and the most frequently asked questions relating the organization.

Catholic Charities Regional Agency (CCRA) is a client-facing service arm of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Youngstown. CCRA serves Mahoning, Columbiana and Trumbull counties, with locations in Youngstown and Warren. They also operate a total of five shelters across the three counties in their service area.

Much of this presentation includede information about the services provided by CCRA, as well as information on how they handle logistics and procedures—from the screening of a new client to their eventual “graduation” from the program. CCRA staff also shared various client requirements and explained in-depth why some people may be turned away. Overall, they painted a picture of how a non-profit, service-oriented organization operates in the Diocese of Youngstown, covering types of clients, common assistance requests, their cooperation with local shelters and food pantries, and more.

Mission and Programs

Catholic Charities Lunch and Learn, Sept 2023

The pair kicked things off by explaining that “the primary mission of Catholic Charities Regional Agency is to provide service to people in need through various programs and projects in our service area.” Like most nonprofits, CCRA has an expansive list of services offered in their counties, some being more in-demand than others. The services covered most diligently during this Lunch and Learn were:

  • Basic Needs Assistance/Harriet’s Cupboard – This is a specific program for individuals and families to provide financial and material assistance in crises.
  • Homeless Outreach/Housing Assistance – Assisting the homeless population with shelter, employment, food, travel, etc.
  • First Step – Material assistance for mothers and families with children aged 0-3

A full list of CCRA services is available here.

Client Screening

Wendy Rusback explained the challenges of balancing fairness and the urge to help, and how that contributes to the need to screen clients. The duo shared that the most common requests are for food, diapers and utility/rent assistance. Due to the limitations of their funding, they can only offer clients:

Food: every 3 months

Diapers: monthly

Utility/rent assistance: potentially many months

No, these rules are not written in stone, but on paper, this is all their funding allows. On average, Catholic Charities Regional Agency receives as many as 60 to 70 calls each day from individuals and families seeking help. Due to this high volume, CCRA works in tandem with local food pantries, shelters and other service providers to ensure efforts in their service area are shared equally. They also touched briefly on the difficulties of assisting those who cannot find it within to help themselves, stating “we can only do so much,” before going on to explain how referrals allow them to help even those who they must turn away.

Collaboration with Local Organizations

Though CCRA would prefer to serve every person who asks, it is not possible with so few hands, and so many people in need. Thankfully, through community partnership referrals, resources like the Catholic Charities Community Resource Guide, and educational services, CCRA is still able to supply some help to all, even if it does not immediately address the client’s issue. Through partnerships with local food cupboards and service providers like MYCAP, Beatitude House, St. Edward Church and St. Vincent De Paul, CCRA can refer clients to immediate help of some kind.


Wendy and Nickie shared that they are often asked why two of the five CCRA-operated shelters only house women and children. Wendy went on to explain that there is currently a waitlist of 70 homeless people at their shelters. Due to this incredibly high—and ongoing—demand, there was concern that there were enough beds to shelter a woman and her children, but not enough rooms to keep them all together. The solution? Limit some shelters to women and children only. Wendy went on to say, “we sometimes get women in there with seven children … and we’re able to provide a room for them to all stay together.”

Ultimately, this Lunch and Learn was a tutorial on how to do more with less, creative problem solving, and how to keep faith that what you do matters. The details of CCRA’s service programs are valuable, but their larger story of dedication to a better world was the true wisdom shared at this event.

Watch the full video of this Lunch and Learn here.

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