There is no person, agency or business that has not been affected by the tough economic period that continues to challenge the nation and local communities. Non-profits are no exception. But when the mission of Christ is the priority — feeding the hungry, providing clothing, and assisting, even in a small way, those who need shelter — the challenge during tough times calls for commitment, determination, perseverance and a large dose of faith. So despite a decline in donations over the past couple of years, and more people requesting assistance, Catholic Charities Ventura Region office continues to provide services to an ever-growing number of people in need — thanks to a determined staff and cadre of volunteers. “Because of the generosity of the community, we can touch a lot of people,” says Pat Esseff, the newly appointed program director for the Ventura Region. “Volunteers make everything happen in the centers, even with donations at such a low level. We would never be able to serve so many clients without the dedication of our volunteers.”Esseff concedes, however that with fewer and smaller donations, the challenge to meet the growing need is becoming tougher, adding that they are doing all they can with available resources to assist those who come to Catholic Charities for assistance. Those resources include the pro bono services of a local attorney, the presence of Calfresh (food stamps), and creative partnering of local businesses, parishes and Catholic Charities to provide clothing and supplies for school children.Esseff, who has been with Catholic Charities for the past 10 years, oversees the operations of the region’s three community centers (Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura) in addition to its OASIS and Adeste programs. With the assistance of John Rak, resource development manager, and the support of the Ventura Region advisory board, Esseff maintains a positive, yet realistic, attitude about maintaining services offered and maintained for those in need.“We hope to become financially stable over the next year so that we can rebuild in a planned manner,” Esseff explains. Fundraising efforts have included the annual Partners in Service Award Dinner, Angel of Charity luncheons, “roasts” targeting high-end donors, and annual mailings to all who have made previous donations. Additionally, the Knights of Columbus Council of the San Buenaventura Mission has hosted an annual St. Patrick’s Day Dinner/Dance that has been quite successful.“We are encouraging other Knights’ councils to do just one fundraising event for Catholic Charities in the coming year,” says Rak. “Also, the last few years we have been able to find some donors willing to match dollar for dollar for some of our fundraising projects. We are hoping to increase this area of fundraising, especially for Christmas, our best fundraising time of the year.”That includes increasing the public’s awareness of the need for resources and services to serve clients. An upcoming challenge is the move of the Moorpark Community center from a modular building into a new building owned by the city of Moorpark to house non-profits. With completion expected next March or April, the building will house the food pantry and provide more rooms for serving the community through classes, tax preparation and other activities, which Rak says they hope to eventually be able to provide.“We have recruited a very passionate group in Moorpark to do a mailing to businesses and donors in the area in order to generate funds for equipping and furnishing the new space, and do the actual move,” Rak says, adding that Albertsons Grocery will be providing shelving for the new building. “What and how much we will actually be able to offer in the way of services, and how many hours per day we can actually provide services in this new, larger space depends on the funds we raise.”Both Esseff and Rak are seeking to cast a wider net in spreading the word about Catholic Charities and recruiting volunteers and resources.“We will be venturing even more into electronic and social media to get the awareness out there of the needs of Catholic Charities and the people we serve,” Rak says. “We now have a Facebook page for our region and are looking into several ways to utilize the social networks and other electronic communication.”“We have some ideas to bring awareness and involvement at parish levels,” says Esseff, “For example, what are some ways we can give the younger generation opportunities to respond to the ever-present needs of the hungry, homeless and unemployed? How can we incorporate youth groups and youth ministries?” “As always, we are working to build more long-term support through planned giving,” adds Rak. “That means identifying those with estates who want to assist Catholic Charities through an endowment.”Having buildings for community centers is an advantage, they agree, but providing for clients remains a challenge. Rak remains optimistic:“Ultimately, people make it all happen.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0916/sbcharities/{/gallery}