Novi parishioners donate stimulus checks to help those impacted by COVID-19

Members of Holy Family Parish’s “Needs of the Saints” ministry are pictured in the parish courtyard. Last year, the Novi parish began the ministry as a way to help parishioners financially struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to date has helped more than 50 families with rent, mortgage or utility bills. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Temporary ‘Needs of the Saints’ ministry at Holy Family a stop-gap for parishioners in a bind, funded by anonymous families’ generosity

NOVI — It was in April 2020 when Fr. Bob LaCroix got his first stimulus check from the federal government.

It was a month into the pandemic, the church was closed and worries about finances were increasing, but the Church of the Holy Family pastor felt he was doing all right.

But just because he was doing all right, didn’t mean the rest of his Novi parish was.

“When I got a check for $1,200 in April, I felt I didn’t need this, but there’s probably people in the parish who do,” Fr. LaCroix told Detroit Catholic. “I decided to give my stimulus check to someone who needs it, so I tried to get the word out. Then I thought, I’m sure we have others in the parish like me who don’t need the checks, but we can find someone who does.”

Others soon followed suit, and thus began the “Needs of the Saints” ministry at Holy Family  — a short-term, temporary solution for parishioners facing financial difficulty because of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns.

Whether it’s a rent or mortgage payment, car insurance premium or this month’s electricity bill, Holy Family parishioners can bring the bill to the parish, which works with a team of donors to get the account settled.

“This fund is for any parishioner in need,” said Roxanne Hundsrucker, director of Christian service at the parish. “We have paid rent, phone bills and health insurance for families temporarily laid off because of COVID. We don’t hand out cash, but we work with donors to pay the bills.”

Holy Family has a rich history of giving, starting with its founding pastor, Fr. Kevin O’Brien, in 1974. The parish uses 8 percent of its weekly offerings to help low-income people in the Novi and Northville area, regardless of whether they’re parishioners.

“Needs of the Saints” ministry committee members pray inside Holy Family Parish in Novi. The temporary ministry collects anonymous donations to help parishioners struggling to pay their bills. 

While Needs of the Saints is more focused, the parish still uses contacts and relationships in the parish to look out for families in need. 

“Pastorally, we reach out to them without trying to be nosey about their financials,” Hundsrucker said. “We know it’s tough for people out there, dipping into their 401k, expressing concern about their work, falling behind on their mortgage. This is a way for ministers to use their prior contacts to help.”

To date, more than 50 families have received assistance from more than 47 donors who have given approximately $20,000 to the ministry. The ministry isn’t intended to be permanent, however.

“This is a pandemic-driven ministry,” Hundsrucker said. “We’ve reached out to hundreds of people in the parish to promote the committee, making a 3-minute video explaining what we’re trying to do with this.”

While Novi and Northville have a reputation as affluent communities, the area has plenty of apartment complexes, and the parish is home to many food service and hospitality workers whose livelihoods were especially impacted by the pandemic. 

“We’ve done wellness calls, asking parishioners if they have everything they need,” said Mary Austin, a member of the ministry committee at Holy Family. “We let people know we have this ministry available. I’ve been in this parish for 26 years, so I know a lot of families from teaching religious ed and being on the Alpha leadership team. So when we do wellness calls, people know who’s on this committee. All the donations are anonymous and the assistance in anonymous. It’s really a grassroots effort at the parish.”

Anne and John Gilchrist gave to Needs of the Saints despite not receiving a stimulus check. Luckily, their financial situation didn’t take too much of a hit because of the pandemic, so they knew they could help out.

“In our lives there have been times when John has been out of work, so we know what it’s been like,” Anne Gilchrist said. “We know that feeling of worrying, ‘How is this bill going to get paid?’ I think for me, the biggest part, we feel so blessed to have income right now, so we feel the need to help someone else get to that light at the end of the tunnel.”

“When much is given, much is expected, and when we heard about this program, it immediately resonated as a way to make a direct impact on our fellow parishioners,” John Gilchrist added. “We are a very giving community, and we’re blessed to able to give. This is Holy Family’s charism.”

Fr. LaCroix isn’t surprised with the response — if anything, he’s amazed more haven’t reached out for help. 

“The mission of our church is to unleash the Gospel,” Fr. LaCroix said. “By doing this, we’re bringing Christ to the people. We have prayer teams come in for those seeking aid or assistance, taking care of their spiritual and their temporal needs. This is our legacy here at Holy Family.”