St. Paul Catholic Church has been helping those in need for close to 100 years; in fact, the parish opened the original St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen in the 1920’s. Today, that soup kitchen has grown into St. Vincent de Paul CARES (SVdP CARES) Food Center, and the parish continues to be active in the fight against hunger and homelessness with a recently created program, the Hungry Child Initiative.
We realized there was a lot being done to get food to children, but when it came to homeless families, there was a gap.
What began as a “Dad’s Club” steak dinner in the Spring of 2019, turned into a catalyst for the initiative’s launch. “We had a guest speaker that worked in law enforcement at the dinner,” said Monsignor Robert Gibbons, Pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church and School. “He made the comment, ‘there are hungry children in the community that would kill for this dinner,’ and that really stuck with me.” The following Sunday, Msgr. weaved the message into his homily, and by week’s end, he received multiple inquiries on what the parish could do to help. A small team of parishioners formed a committee that went to work on researching hunger in the area. “We realized there was a lot being done to get food to children, but when it came to homeless families, there was a gap,” said Gibbons. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t duplicating efforts and wasting resources on a problem that didn’t exist.” Finding organizations that were working towards solutions, the team decided a partnership could prove more productive and reached out to SVdP CARES. By the fall of that same year, Hungry Child was born.
The baskets are delivered to the families by the SVdP CARES team. “You are a blessing,” said one family, “truly a blessing.”
The program pairs recently housed families, lifted from homelessness, with a volunteer parish family that provides basic and supplemental needs to help transition them into their new home. The Hungry Child committee works to put together a “general basket” of cleaning products, toiletries, kitchen supplies, etc., while the parish family puts together a second basket containing “Wishlist” items of clothes, toys, or other family needs. Lastly, St. Paul works with Kind Mouse to stock fridges and pantries with groceries upon move-in. Said Katie Doolittle, committee chair, “if we can, we will pair parish families with the same size CARE families. Even the kids from the parish get into it. For those that have participated, it’s been a heartwarming experience.” Monsignor Gibbons explains that the initiative has raised awareness of family homelessness within St. Paul. “Our parish was amazed to hear that SVdP CARES is sheltering and housing families. They aren’t always visible.” He adds, “the wonderful thing about this initiative is that parishioners who want hands-on involvement are able to, and their children can learn the importance of helping those in need; for those who aren’t able to participate, they can support financially.”
For those that have participated, it’s been a heartwarming experience
For the parish families, “it’s a way to exercise the corporal works of mercy,” states Monsignor Gibbons. For the families they steward, it’s life-changing. “I walked into the kitchen and it was full of linens, kitchen items, and a stocked fridge and pantry. I was just in the room crying,” said a recently housed mother of 2 who lost her husband this summer. “This is so good. God is great.”
What started as 1 family “adoption” per month, quickly grew to 2, as word spread and more parishioners wanted to get involved. “We have a waitlist of parish families eager to adopt,” said Katie. And while she would love to expand the initiative, Katie wants to make sure the committee can keep it sustainable. “What I would love to see, is for this program to expand to other churches or organizations,” she says, “if each could adopt 1-2 families per month, you could imagine the impact!”
Since their first family of 4 last December, the St. Paul Hungry Child Initiative has adopted 20 families. This Christmas, they added 3 additional families, purchasing each item on the family’s Christmas list including bikes for all the children! One mother said it best… “faith tells me that no matter what lies ahead of me, my angels are already there. Thanks for being the angels we needed!!”
Many angels are at work within this project, both above and within the community. “Every organization plays a tremendous part,” said Monsignor Gibbons. “Working together is a win-win for everybody. Each can’t do everything on their own, but together, we can do so much more that we couldn’t do otherwise. St. Paul’s doesn’t have access to the families who are homeless, but SVdP CARES does, and we have the resources to help these families transition with basic and supplemental needs.”
This season, as we gather with family, we may be reminded of one family that was homeless many years ago. With no room at the inn, they found shelter in a stable, and that very night, a wondrous gift was given to the world, in the form of a baby boy. When you give back this season and beyond, may you be reminded of that beautiful gift, and know that many families will be better because you cared. St. Vincent de Paul CARES is grateful for devoted partners like St. Paul; the Hungry Child program is giving families hope with supplies for a fresh start as they begin a new chapter on their journey to permanence.