It wasn't an easy six months for the Catholic Charities Appeal, but on Tuesday when diocesan officials announced they exceeded their goal of $11 million, the immediate reaction was relief.
“When we launched this year’s appeal back in January we knew it would be a challenge, but none of us knew just how big of a struggle it would be,” said Bishop Richard J. Malone.
The challenges included a tapped-out donor base, the shrinking population of churchgoers and a scandal involving priests accused of sexual abuse while serving in the Diocese of Buffalo.
“As recently as May 15, we faced a seemingly insurmountable shortfall of $1.5 million and it was evident we were at serious risk of failing to achieve our goal for the first time since 2010, and only the fourth time in the appeal’s 94-year history."
More than one-quarter of the $1.5 million monthlong rally stemmed from a successful first-time effort called "Day of Giving," a fundraising blitz on June 8 that involved a corporate phone-a-thon and a round of parish-centered events. The daylong event was jump-started by the $50,000 donation of businessman David L. Rogers, who answered a call for help from Sister Mary McCarrick, diocesan director of Catholic Charities.
"She is an MBA on steroids," said Rogers, 62, CEO of Life Storage, formerly Sovran Self-Storage. "She was thrust into this impossible role years ago. She gets it all, the fundraising, the accounting, plus she understands my company. She called me about the Day of Giving. We met for coffee. I wrote a check. She's a bulldog."
McCarrick, who will retire this year, said the sex abuse scandal affected contributions – to a degree.
"Some people who were writing me were holding on to their donations to see how the scandal is settled," said McCarrick, 70. "They want to know their money is going where they want it to go."
Catholic Charities is a $36 million dollar nonprofit organization that sponsors 70 programs and services at 61 sites throughout the eight counties of Western New York. In 2017, diocesan officials estimated more than 153,000 people were impacted by the organization that provides emergency services, comprehensive counseling and social and mental health assistance.
The $11,007,179 raised to date this year will change as final donations are tabulated through the appeal's final day on June 30, said McCarrick.
McCarrick honored major donor and restaurateur Russell Salvatore by naming the Lackawanna Food Pantry and Outreach Center after the longtime benefactor.
“The thousands of donors and friends who came forward to give small and large contributions – and then give again – brought us to this day and we are extremely grateful,” said McCarrick.
Robert M. Bennett, appeal chairman, acknowledged St. Rose of Lima Parish in North Buffalo for raising $60,261 and exceeding its goal by 24 percent. St. Rose's was a standout among smaller parishes in the diocese, Bennett said.
Rogers, who started his self-storage empire with "Uncle Bob's Self-Storage" in the late 1970s, was one of the reasons the drive exceeded its goal this year; he increased his contributions to Catholic Charities in recent years, pouring a half-million dollars into the nonprofit organization.
Rogers studied accounting at the University at Buffalo before opening a self-storage business with some friends. He does not describe himself as spiritual; rather, his philanthropic sense was born of life experience. He remembers the struggle of writing a check when starting his career. Those memories fuel his willingness today to help the underserved in a variety of ways.
Rogers sponsors a handful of food pantries affiliated with Catholic Charities, and he doesn't just buy holiday turkeys and hams. He volunteers regularly at Fulton Street-St. Brigid Pantry and Outreach and the Bishop Kmiec Food Pantry and Outreach in South Buffalo. For more than a decade, his wife, Joan, taught sewing classes to youths ages 8 to 14 in the Commodore Perry public housing development. The classes used 10 sewing machines purchased by her husband.
"I doubled down this year to help more," said Rogers, who attends Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Clarence. "The scandal is so unfortunate, a tough story for all involved, but it is a separate and unique incident. There is good work accomplished daily in the diocese by the social workers, the providers and the people who benefit from their services. They should not be punished."