Three years ago, COVID-19 slammed into our lives, putting a stop to our daily experiences. Most affected were people living on day-to-day incomes. Neighborhood and community connections were in danger, caused by dire predictions of contagion.
For many, their only connections were with the Catholic Charities offices in Middletown, New London, Norwich, and Willimantic. These offices never closed. Precautions were taken to keep safe both caseworkers and neighbors in need.
Catholic Charities helped citizens in need in 2020 as it had served neighbors one-hundred years before during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Who were those sisters and brothers long passed?
We know about the important charitable work from Norwich Diocesan Catholic Charities recent 1921-2021 historical search, published in the Four County Catholic and online. We have few autobiographical records from mothers, the sole support of their children, whose husbands died from the 1918 pandemic.
What was it like to stand in line for food or warm blankets and clothes in New London or Willimantic or Middletown or Norwich? What was it like to watch a neighbor die suddenly of the killer influenza? Health and social service workers spoke about their experiences, and some were reported in newspaper accounts. Missing were the personal accounts of neighbors in need.
The Connecticut Historical Society also had few records from the experiences of the 1918 influenza and decided to make sure that historical absence would not repeat itself in this century. In 2020, they invited citizens to share their experiences of living through COVID-19. During the following year, staff members noted that they were receiving material from white, affluent and suburban contributors.
March 10, 2022, the Community History Project (CHP), a two-year initiative, was launched in Hartford by the Connecticut Historical Society with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The meeting was reported by The Hartford Courant and quoted Ilene Frank, the Connecticut Historical Society’s chief curator: “We did not have a diverse and inclusive representation of COVID. We [realized] that if we want to make sure that we are creating a diverse and inclusive archive that will be used for the future, by future generations, then we have to be more intentional about that.”
Otis Library in Norwich, a few steps away from Catholic Charities Main Office at 331 Main Street, was one of CHP’s three in-person training sites. That is where Kathy Capon, MSW, a member of the Board of Directors Catholic Charities Diocese of Norwich, Inc., explored opportunities for people served by the ministry to tell their COVID stories and to be part of history.
During the past year, Mrs. Capon interviewed an individual in the Middletown, New London, Norwich, and Willimantic Catholic Charities offices. Each permitted her to hear about the effects of COVID on their lives and to record their experiences for history.
Mrs. Capon recalled, “The two women and two men I interviewed spent hours telling me their stories and making sure I had recorded them in detail. Each suffered and coped during this modern-era pandemic, experiencing three plus years of anxiety asking, “Where do I locate necessities of daily living, food, shelter and medicine?” These are stories of our neighbors on the edge of society. Now their personal stories have been heard and will be remembered by future generations.”
A gentleman, Melvin Smith, sincerely expressed his appreciation to Catholic Charities for keeping our doors open and the caseworkers genuine care and concern to maintain the dignity of all individuals and families. In his daily life, Melvin Smith explained, “I want to keep a positive attitude to help others through their hardships.” Post COVID still remains financially a difficult experience for disadvantaged individuals as many Federal and State funding sources have ended.
Catholic Charities continues to assist our neighbors with the necessities of daily living. For over 100 years Catholic Charities has relied on your financial support to continue providing the underserved in our Diocese access to medicine, food, shelter and utilities etc. Your donations create independence and stability in the lives of our clients and their beautiful families. Please donate to Catholic Charities 331 Main Street Norwich CT 06360. Thank you.
For more information about the Community History Project, please contact Samariya Smith, Project Manager, Connecticut Historical Society, One Elizabeth St., Hartford, CT 06105
By Jacqueline Keller