The coronavirus pandemic has cost a lot of people their jobs and, therefore, their income. That’s had an impact on everything from mortgage and rent payments, utilities and loans to one extremely essential item: food.
People who never before needed to take advantage of the help of others suddenly find themselves struggling to keep their families fed.
Locally, the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick has long been known for its charitable endeavors. Now, they’ve established a Covid-19 relief fund, available to local Irish and Irish-American families fighting to keep body and soul together.
Friendly Sons President Ryan M. Heenan explains.
“Typically, our benevolence budget includes a lot of scholarships to local universities to help students travel to Ireland and things like that,” Heenan says, “but it became pretty apparent that a lot of those travel plans are going to be pretty restricted or canceled this year. So we made a conscious effort to dedicate those funds and continue to fund-raise toward the goal of food assistance.”
The society has contributed money to the fund, but is looking for donations from the community to bolster it.
All of this, Heenan says, in completely in keeping with the society’s longtime mission.
“The Friendly Sons were founded in 1771 and for well over 100 years, our core mission was taking new Irish immigrants off the docks in Philadelphia and finding them food, shelter and work, trying to connect them with their families or people who could look after them. They were on the front lines of people in need. Obviously, we’re talking about people who were coming from nothing, whether it was famine or fleeing for one reason or another. So over the years, there’s certainly less of a need at the docks of Philadelphia, but there are still people in need.”
The society, he says, is first and foremost a benevolent organization. Some of its funding supports broader causes like Irish-American culture generally, but, he adds, as the Covid-19 crisis was developing, the society decided to respond to an urgent material need: hunger.
The idea came together quickly, Heenan says.
“We were just tossing around some emails last week, and decided to implement the project as soon as possible, knowing that the need probably would be greatest early on,” he says. “There are so many who have applied for unemployment who might not be eligible or might be waiting weeks to see some relief from the government perspective. It all seemed to be core to the society’s mission.”
Heenan credits Michael Maloney, the benevolence chair of the society, for spearheading the effort, and Kevin Lake, who is coordinating the logistics.
“Credit, too, to the membership as well, who were in a position to donate,” he says. “We had a few step up right off the bat and they really made a huge impact.”
The society’s own contribution to the fund, Heenan says, has been sizable, but support from the community is essential to help meet the continuing need. How well the society is able to respond that need depends heavily on those contributions.
The effort is focused on the Irish and Irish-American community of the Philadelphia area, Heenan stresses. To help get the word out, the society sent notifications to local Irish organizations, like the Irish Diaspora Center in Delaware County, the Irish American Business Chamber & Network, the Philadelphia Gaelic Athletic Association, and the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center (The Irish Center).
People who apply should indicate from which of those organizations they were referred.
Those who apply will receive emailed gift cards for their preferred grocery story in the amount of $50 per person, up to $250 per family.
“The primary mission is timeliness and speed,” Heenan says. “We think that’s going to be more important than the perfectly executed plan. Three months from now, it might not have as much of a benefit.”
The need isn’t likely to go away any time soon, Heenan says, so it’s not unreasonable to expect that there might be repeated applications. “This problem is not going to be solved overnight. It could go through April, May, June, and we have to be prepared for that as well.”
Those who need help should apply to the society on the web at friendlysons.com/covid-19-relief.
If you want to contribute, go to https://friendlysons.com/product/covid19-donation/