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‘Serving the underserved’: Catholic Community Services of Utah commemorates 75-year legacy

Durrell Annis, left, Damian Aguilera and Reid Blair, from Catholic Community Services load food onto a table for those in need in Ogden in 2020. Utah was ranked the most charitable state in the nation in 2020 by WalletHub.com
Durrell Annis, Catholic Community Services office manager and “Bridge the Gap” coordinator, left, Damian Aguilera, Catholic Community Services volunteer coordinator, and Reid Blair, Catholic Community Services warehouse worker and driver, load food onto a table for those in need to pick up outside of Catholic Community Services of Utah in Ogden on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Catholic Community Services employees can load food into trunks of cars, but not into any shared airspace such as the cabin of a vehicle.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

After waiting in a line of cars for nearly an hour, it was finally Sarah Fairbanks’ turn.

Amid light snow flurries, the wife and pregnant mother of four young children parked her van in the alley behind the Catholic Community Services of Utah Basic Needs Ogden campus and stepped up to a table covered with an abundance of food.

The cornucopia of nourishment included bread/rolls, potatoes, onions, canned goods, fruit, turkey, stuffing and even some treats, much more than she expected. The young family from Washington Terrace had recently suffered financial setbacks with expensive vehicle repairs while still paying off student loans and credit card debt. She viewed the food as a godsend and wished she could give those hurrying about to distribute food in the cold weather a collective bear hug.

Although preparing to deliver her fifth child next month, it didn’t bother Fairbanks one bit to load the food into her van by herself as a COVID-19 safety measure.

Sarah Fairbanks, who is pregnant with her fifth child, picks up food for her family outside of Catholic Community Services of Utah in Ogden on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.
Sarah Fairbanks, who is pregnant with her fifth child, picks up food for her family outside of Catholic Community Services of Utah in Ogden on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“It’s a huge blessing for us, oh my goodness,” she said. “I was in shock because I asked if it was just these boxes and someone said it was the whole table. It blew me away. I am so grateful.”

Providing holiday food to families like the Fairbanks is only one of many ways that Catholic Community Services of Utah is continuing a rich legacy of service in Utah.

This year the faith-based charitable organization is commemorating its 75th anniversary. Since opening its doors in 1945, Catholic Community Services has fed the hungry along the Wasatch Front, provided shelter, counseling and training, and found homes for refugees, among other services, said Cynthia Mecklenburg, director of human resources and communications.

“We’ve been a partner in Salt Lake and northern Utah communities for 75 years now. Our mission at CCS is to practice the gospel values of love, compassion and hope through service, support and collaboration. ... We serve the underserved,” Mecklenburg said. “By providing help, we create hope. Although the challenges we currently face affect us all, refugees, migrants, the hungry and the homeless have suffered more acutely.”

Catholic Community Services acknowledged the 75-year milestone with its first virtual awards gala on Oct. 21, featuring special guests Pamela Atkinson and the Most Rev. Oscar Azarcon Solis, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

“What a blessing CCS has become for our poor brethren, the refugees and immigrants, the homeless, the jobless and those suffering from hunger,” the bishop said on that occasion. “The embrace of CCS continues for the diversity of those in need.”

In 1945, the Most Rev. Duane G. Hunt, the fifth Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City, recognized a need and formally incorporated Catholic Charities in Utah. With a starting budget of $10,000, four employees began by assisting 30 children through adoption and foster care services that first year, according to the organization’s history.

In 1955, it adapted to offer transient services to the homeless.

In 1967, it opened the St. Vincent DePaul thrift shop and added a soup kitchen with the first meal being a sandwich.

In 1974, a Refugee Resettlement Program was established. Over the decades the program has helped more than 30,000 refugees from 21 countries resettle in Utah.

During the 1980s, Catholic Community Services opened a food bank in Ogden and rebuilt St. Vincent DePaul after it was destroyed in a fire.

Today Catholic Community Services of Utah has more than 100 employees spread throughout nine programs from Salt Lake City to Ogden and other communities along the Wasatch Front, assisting tens of thousands of individuals and families annually. Along with the employees, it has welcomed the help of 18,000 volunteers each year.

This year the organization has distributed 1.6 million pounds of food to nearly 50,000 in Ogden and served 420,000 meals in Salt Lake County. It has also resettled close to 200 individuals and assisted close to 1,000 clients with immigration needs, Mecklenburg said.

Aden Batar, the director for migration and refugee services and a former refugee himself, has worked for Catholic Community Services since 1996. For him, it’s fulfilling work that blesses all involved.

Aden Batar, surrounded by his wife, Asho Hamud, center, daughters Lail Batar, left, Ilham Batar, right, and son Ibrahim Batar, (two older sons not pictured), Bater was himself a Muslim refugee in Utah before becoming head of the refugee program for Catholic Community Services, Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, in West Valley City.
Aden Batar is surrounded by his wife, Asho Hamud, center, daughters Lail Batar, left, Ilham Batar, right, and son Ibrahim Batar in West Valley City on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. Two older sons are not pictured. Bater was himself a Muslim refugee in Utah before becoming head of the refugee program for Catholic Community Services.
Tom Smart, Deseret News

“Every day I come into work, I’m touching somebody’s life and that makes my day, every day. That keeps me going. I don’t know if you can get that satisfaction from anywhere else,” Batar said. “They appreciate what you’ve done, and this is something that will change that person’s life. I appreciate doing that every single day.”

Batar’s appreciation for Catholic Community Services runs deep because the organization made it possible for his family to come to Utah and walked them through the process of finding a place to live, obtaining all the necessary documentation, getting the children into school and giving him a job. What they did for his family was life-changing.

“They gave us all the support we needed to start a new life here in Utah,” Batar said.

“Through Catholic Community Services my eyes were opened. When you come to a country where you don’t know the culture and where you don’t have friends, but you have an agency that’s backing you up and helping you, it’s truly something. I could never pay back what I’ve received, all I could do is to pay it forward. This really changed our life.”

Under normal circumstances, the annual distribution of holiday food would take place inside the Basic Needs Ogden facility, with people using shopping carts gather items like in a supermarket. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the operation outside this year.

Catholic Community Services of Utah has partnered with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint and the Utah Food Bank to provide 1,200 holiday meals to needy members of the community. Distribution started on Nov. 3 and will continue until Wednesday, Nov. 25. Food can be picked up Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon at 3721 S. 250 West in Ogden.

Durrell Annis is the office manager in Ogden and runs the “Bridge the Gap” program (a mobile school pantry that provides food for children) for Catholic Community Services. Protected by a face shield and mask while sporting a winter coat, Annis and others hustled about pushing carts and unloading food to keep the line of cars moving. It was a little chaotic, but worth it to help the people, she said.

“It’s all walks of life, families, the elderly, and they really need this,” Annis said. “When we can relieve the thought of where your food is going to come from, and they can focus on the spiritual or other aspects of their life, how to get rent and those kinds of things, they are a happier person and able to live life a little easier.”

With the colder weather coming on, Mecklenburg said donations are needed now more than ever. Visit ccsutah.org for more information on how to donate.

“By supporting us, you play an essential role in serving our community,” Mecklenburg said.