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If he had not been rescued by Catholic Charities, Edward believes his life would have ended four years ago.

"I was behind in my rent. I had no heat or electricity. I had no money for food," said the lifelong Erie County resident, describing the conditions that led him to Catholic Charities. "I was suicidal. I didn't care if I lived or died."

A former restaurant cook who earned $800 a week, Edward was on the verge of a nervous breakdown in 1994 when he was fired because he had become so emotionally explosive. Then he suffered serious injuries in an auto accident.

Although he was eligible for Social Security disability, Edward, 51, who asked that his last name be withheld, was told it would be several months before he would begin receiving benefits.

Meanwhile, he was getting $260 a week in unemployment benefits, but that was insufficient to cover his normal living expenses plus the mounting cost of prescription drugs and other medical bills.

Eventually, with his savings depleted, his utilities shut off and his cupboard bare, Edward went to the Erie County Social Services Department. There, he was told he could not receive assistance for 45 days because he was single.

"I was so desperate I went as far as calling the mayor, Mr. Gorski and Congressman Quinn," he said. "No one would help. They sent me letters saying that's how the system works."

As a last resort, Edward heeded the advice of a welfare worker who suggested that he go to Catholic Charities or the Salvation Army for temporary assistance. He ended up at the South Buffalo Catholic Charities satellite office, 2315 Seneca St.

Edward is one of more than 170,000 people who turned to Catholic Charities for some kind of help last year. The office he visited in the former St. John the Evangelist School is one of 64 operated by Catholic Charities, the social services arm of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese.

This year, the agency, which operates throughout the eight counties of Western New York, expects to receive even more requests for assistance. To be able to respond to them, it launched its annual fund-raising appeal Sunday with a goal of $8.9 million. The appeal ends Palm Sunday.

Christine Croome, the social worker who has helped Edward with a variety of problems, says the mission of Catholic Charities is to provide people with emergency assistance and guidance.

"If clients are doing the best they can do, we can help in a variety of ways," she said. "There are a lot of programs out there that people are not aware of."

Medical assistance has been a high priority for Edward, who suffers major depression, post-traumatic-stress disorder, obsessive- compulsive disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, asthma, emphysema, allergies and migraines. His treatment includes 27 different medicines and two injections daily.

"He was very ill when he came to us. We got his gas turned on, his electricity, got him fuel oil," Mrs. Croome said.

Because of the number of prescriptions Edward needs, Mrs. Croome also helped him get into an insurance program that requires no co-pay. She got him eyeglasses and went to the St. Vincent de Paul Society for the donation of a blood pressure machine and Christmas gifts.

She also got him an emergency food supply and clothing.

"Catholic Charities has given me life for four years," he said. "If it wasn't for Catholic Charities, I wouldn't have anything . . . "

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