By C. Aileen Blaine
It can be hard for Youngstown State University students to know where to go for aid. Whether through food, fellowship or faith, there are several religious institutions in the Youngstown area willing to help.
Gayle Catinella is the reverend of St. John’s Episcopal Church, located on Wick Avenue beside Meshel Hall. She said before the pandemic, students were frequent faces at the church. The church’s campus ministry, Thinking Christians, hosted pizza nights, Sunday worship and other outreach activities. During the summer, masks were given to students, and the food pantry remained open.
“The hard thing about the pandemic is that you don’t even know the need all the time,” Catinella said. “All the remote learning means their needs can’t get met because they’re not on campus.”
Catinella said the church provides food to students in need, makes donations to the campus food pantry and holds drives for self-care items. On the third Saturday of each month, the church holds a donation event. The clergy and members of the church are the main support providers.
Sarah Wilschek is the executive director of Congregation Rodef Shalom, located on Elm Street across from Wick Park. Her job is to ensure the mission and vision of the congregation is met. Some of her duties include strengthening the congregation’s and community’s relations.
“We’re here as a community partner, and we’re here to help any way we can,” Wilschek said. “If there’s a need that students have, we want to help out to meet that need.”
Some of Rodef Shalom’s congregants are faculty at YSU, and Wilschek said they direct students to seek support from the institution.
Recently, the congregation offered several events available to YSU students, including a voter registration fair, a flu-shot clinic and a COVID-19 testing site.
St. Columba Parish Cathedral also provides such things as food and fellowship to students. The church, which is located just west of Williamson Hall on Wood Street, provides a food pantry and donations to students, much of which is contributed to by parishioners. Recently, the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown received a grant from the Sisters of Charity and donated $1,000 of it to restock St. Columba’s pantry.
Ursuline Sister Martha Reed, pastoral associate and director of religious education for the parish, said some students are looking for someone with whom they can talk and explore their faith. She said more YSU students have been attending services at St. Columba in recent months.
“I like to chat with the students that come to the church, but with the social distancing, the masks, it’s really hard to see facial expressions and to sit and chat, because you’re six feet away, and trying to hear someone through the masks — it makes communication hard,” Reed said.
However, since the pandemic, Rodef Shalom and St. John’s have noticed a decrease in the number of students reaching out in search of assistance. Due to virtual-only services, the institutions also agree it’s hard to know if there are more students attending services or not.
“There’s probably a greater need, but they’re just not asking for it,” Wilschek said. “We want to be a partner for students and the university, and that we’re here as a resource.”
“I just hope [students] feel free to ask for help when they need it,” Catinella said.
Reed offered some advice for students.
“With this pandemic going on, we all need to really take care of ourselves so we can take care of others,” she said.