“We Know Their Needs”: Behind the Scenes at HFI CAP
This piece is part one of an ongoing series that explores Holy Family Institute programs, the clients they serve, their relationships with other Pittsburgh charities, and the employees who live out their mission of hope.
Although Judy never planned to pursue a career in social services, her open demeanor and determined energy make Holy Family Institute’s Aliquippa office shine. As a case manager for our Customer Assistance Program (CAP), Judy and her coworker Malina help local families apply for energy assistance.
The office typically picks up during late winter and early fall, when utilities start issuing service shutoffs to customers who struggle to pay for heat and electricity. When bitter temperatures persist into shutoff season, as seems likely this year, clients wonder how to stay warm. Although Holy Family Institute mainly works with children and students, Pittsburgh charities that coordinate energy assistance serve multiple vulnerable populations.
In the waiting room, Judy and Malina stack tables and racks with gently worn shoes and clean, warm clothes. In a separate storage area, they fill bookshelves with neatly organized plastic boxes: stacks of children’s books, bundles of paper towels and tissues, piles of toothpaste and deodorant, and boxes of hair care products. “I’m picky about the things I give to people,” Judy says. “I want them to be quality.”
“I’m picky about the things I give to people,”Judy, CAP Case Manager
Warm clothing for boys, Judy says, flies off the shelves at any time of the year. Personal hygiene items and books are also in high demand. Even while shopping for herself, she always keeps a lookout for bargains. If she sees a box of toothbrushes or bottles of laundry detergent on sale, she finds room. “You can’t pass an opportunity like that up!” she explains. Every few weeks, she picks up fresh produce from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and distributes nutritious food to her clients.
Discussing energy assistance often opens the door to other needs and concerns, especially food insecurity and illiteracy. “We know where all the food banks are,” Judy adds, “and we connect people to a lot of services in the area.” If a client cannot read or write, for instance, the team sits with them and helps them fill out an application for assistance. And when the recent government shutdown disrupted food assistance benefits, staff stuffed drawstring bags with nutritious snacks.
“We’re always willing to give and help.”Judy, CAP Case Manager
“People really appreciate those things,” Judy says. She also emphasizes how important it is for Pittsburgh charities—such as schools, food banks, and social services—to collaborate with each other and stay in tune with community needs. This is especially crucial when crises increase stress on existing support networks.
Last year’s holiday season offered many additional opportunities to spread our mission of hope and healing. With a smile of her own, Judy recalls a young client’s grin when she received a purse full of toys and candy. “We see [our clients] face-to-face, and we know their needs,” Judy says. “We’re always willing to give and help. If I can make someone happy by giving their child a toy or book, then I’ll be happy too.”
Holy Family Institute is one of several Pittsburgh charities that works to improve access to energy assistance. If this cause is important to you, please consider making a donation or becoming a volunteer.