by Jessica Rinaudo, Editor
It’s easy to look at all the hurt in the world, the homelessness, the shut-ins, the working poor, the disabled veterans, and think, “I am but one person, there is nothing I can do to ease this hurt or change the world.” And it is overwhelming. Even in our own diocese, there are so many in need, so many who can’t get out of the cycle of poverty, homelessness or can’t leave their own homes. As Catholics though, social outreach is an integral part of our faith, a part that Pope Francis consistently brings to the forefront of our minds through his speech and actions.
And while we may feel inadequate standing alone against this onslaught of need, when we band together, help happens and lives change.
Jane Snyder is the Outreach Coordinator for St. Joseph Parish in Shreveport. When she originally took her post over nine years ago, she was the first paid Outreach Coordinator in the Diocese of Shreveport. Recently rekindled with her Catholic faith, she was on fire for social justice, but didn’t know where or how to begin.
“I showed up every day and said, ‘Ok God, here I am. Put the people in my path,’” said Jane.
“Three months after I started to work, the hurricanes hit in New Orleans, and suddenly we had 90 new families at St. Joseph Church and School, and they had lost everything,” she continued. “There were all these opportunities for people to volunteer, take them into their homes, help them get clothing, food and jobs. The parish really stepped up. So, that’s how I initially met the people in the parish who were interested in doing outreach things.”
This initial outreach effort pulled together people from all over the parish and together they began to reach out into the local community. The Meals on Wheels program, an outreach ministry to people who are over 60-years-old and homebound, by the Caddo Council on Aging, was one of the first ministries with which Jane became involved.
The Meals on Wheels program needed volunteer drivers so they could put more of their funds towards feeding people. The drivers deliver 1,000 meals four days a week, every month.
“I wasn’t sure I would be able to get enough volunteers to cover the route,” said Jane. “I spoke to someone at Broadmoor Presbyterian, and they said they could take one day of the week, so they took Monday. And then we did Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. And then all of a sudden I had more volunteers than I could possibly imagine!”
“We now have three routes at St. Joseph’s. And then I started talking to people I knew in other parishes. So St. Elizabeth Ann Seton drives Meals on Wheels and St. Mary of the Pines drives Meals on Wheels and there’s a route at St. John’s that St. Vincent de Paul drives,” she added.
One of the most surprising and wonderful things about the program was how much the volunteers enjoy serving.
“I really thought people would sign up for six months, and then go on to do something else and it’s been about six years and most of those people who signed up in the beginning are still doing it,” Jane said. “They get attached to the clients. They take treats to the pets. We take poinsettias to them at Christmas time. For some of the clients it’s the only social interaction they have during the day and so they want to tell you about their grandchildren and their doctors’ appointments.”
Catholics are only 4% of the population in the Diocese of Shreveport, yet they are 40% of the Meals on Wheels drivers.
One of the best outcomes of this project was that it helped five local Shreveport-Bossier Catholic parishes form a bond and work as a cohesive team to help those in need in the area. To this day, St. Joseph Parish, St. Mary of the Pines Parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans and St. Jude Parish all work together to assist in various outreach ministries in the Shreveport-Bossier area.
Perhaps one of their greatest collaborative efforts has been the Hope House Meals, which is now called Hope Connections – an organization supported by churches of many denominations in Shreveport-Bossier that began by feeding the homeless. Jane knew that St. Joseph could not cover a meal every week, but she worked to get those five parishes together to help and the program has bloomed so that it now encompasses more than just providing meals. The Catholic Community now serves dinner every Wednesday evening at Hope Connections.
“In February of this year we moved to the Hope Connections on Levy Street. Hope Connections is a day shelter for homeless people. It’s where they go to take showers, wash their clothes and there are 12 non-profits who support homeless services there. In the evening, different churches provide a meal,” said Jane.
“The priests go with us sometimes and bless the food and talk to people and they seem really appreciative,” added Jane.
Together those same five churches collaborated to adopt the shower section of Hope Connections, raising $4,000 to build four bathrooms where homeless people can shower in privacy. Those five churches continue to supply the shower area with all its needs, such as towels, body wash, toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant for the 30 people per day who take showers at Hope Connections.
Another area of important outreach in our area is to local veterans. The VOA is a refuge for many local veterans and our Catholic parishes and the Catholic Chapel at Barksdale Air Force Base both work to serve the men and women who have worked so faithfully to serve us.
Donna Seal, the Outreach Coordinator for the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans in Shreveport, saw that the VOA Veterans Home down the street was looking for churches to help prepare meals for local veterans. She reached out to them, and as a result, parishioners now prepare meals in their homes, then take them to the Veterans home and serve about 50 men the last Sunday of every month. The types of meals vary, with the occasional BBQ and Knights of Columbus fish fry thrown in for good measure.
Both the veterans and the men and women who serve the meals get so much joy out of the program. “Our volunteers get to know the veterans by first name and they thank them for their service. The guys just light up – old and young alike!” said Donna.
Our Holy Family Catholic Community at Barksdale Air Force Base provides regular entertainment throughout the year at the Northwest Louisiana War Veterans Home, as well as a Christmas Party each year with Christmas gifts for the veterans that are presented by Santa Claus.
Donna and Cathedral parishioners also serve with the Greater Blessings program at the Highland Center. Every third Thursday of the month, they provide a free meal at the Highland Center in conjunction with other area churches. It is open to anyone in the Highland neighborhood from 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. What makes this meal special is that it is served “family style,” where seven guests sit down with a table host who engages them in conversation. The Highland Center provides their guests with resources, often pointing them to Catholic Charities or Hope Connections for more help.
These wonderful outreach efforts are happening in the Monroe area as well. Tess Cash, a member of St. Paschal Parish in West Monroe, has been actively involved with the Family Promise program for nine years. This interfaith program is a collaborative effort across many denominations of churches to help house, feed and educate homeless families and get them back on their feet.
Each quarter a church or group of churches is assigned a group of families in need.
“The parishes actually house and feed these families in their buildings,” said Tess. “St. Paschal is the place that houses them and then all the other Catholic churches participate by providing food, entertainment, treats for the kids during their stay.”
Families can stay one week in the parish, but can be in the program for up to 90 days. Family Promise has a day center where they work with the adults while the children are in school, or house the adults with the small children while they work. At the end of the day, families go to the parish around 5:30 for the evening. In addition to shelter, the participating churches provide the families with all their meals during their stay.
“The last big function I went to for Family Promise, I learned they had an 85% success rate with families maintaining their jobs and their homes. Family Promise helps them find jobs and homes and continues to follow up with the families in three month and six month visits,” said Tess.
The programs mentioned in this article are some of the many going on in our area that are assisted by local Catholics. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul continues to be a major force for change in all three of our deaneries. They feed the poor, help them with their utilities, and in the Eastern Deanery, they have a pharmacy to provide affordable prescriptions to the poor who could not afford them otherwise.
Catholic Charities of North Louisiana is a growing organization that started small in Shreveport four years ago, but has now spread into the Lake Providence area and has a number of programs, including financial planning, Gabriel’s Closet for new mothers, English as a Second Language courses and many wonderful immigration resources.
Little Flower of Jesus Parish in Monroe distributes around 100 bags of food to impoverished adults each month and just received a grant to increase the number of donations they will be able to make. They expand their efforts during the holidays by providing Thanksgiving meals to families in need and, during Christmas, many parishioners volunteer at a local restaurant to help prepare and deliver dinner plates to the poor and elderly on Christmas Day.
Even our local Catholic hospitals work to help others in the community. Christus Health has School Based Health Centers, the Cara Center and Gingerbread House for neglected and abused children.
In his address at St. Francis of Assisi of the Providence of God Hospital, Pope Francis said, “In the Gospel, we read the parable of the Good Samaritan, that speaks of a man assaulted and left half dead at the side of the road. People pass by him and look at him. But they do not stop, they just continue on their journey, indifferent to him: it is none of their business! How often do we say: it’s not my problem! How often do we turn the other way and pretend not to see! Only a Samaritan, a stranger, sees him, stops, lifts him up, takes him by the hand, and cares for him (cf. Lk 10:29-35).”
There are so many wonderful outreach programs going on in the Diocese of Shreveport, and December is often the time these programs come to our attention. Now is the perfect time to be the Good Samaritan and check out one of these programs mentioned in this article, or contact your local parish or St. Vincent de Paul Society to learn how you can begin to help change the world for the better. •