Programs reach out to those in need

By | December 2, 2009

 

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Volunteer Kris Helm of Appleton sorts through donated food items at St. Joseph Food Program.  (Kasi Koshollek | For The Compass)

Inspired by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Midway Outreach Community provides an integrated campus for independent human service organizations to provide for the essential needs of people in the community. These non-profit, non-denominational programs reach out to all families in need and receive no state or federal support.

 

I was hungry… More than one of the organizations, including St. Joseph Food Program, Inc., has seen an astounding change in the makeup and volume of those in need. “We’re seeing lots of new faces – some with college degrees,” notes Monica Clare, director of operations, adding that the number of visits per month continues to grow, even when compared to only one year ago.

Now in its 27th year, St. Joseph Food Program serves more than 1,100 families a week. In 2008, nearly 2.5 million pounds of food were distributed to more than 3,100 families and 8,700 individuals.

Completely independent and without affiliations, the food program is entirely supported by the local community. Food is contributed through regular collections at area parishes and churches, businesses, civic groups (such as local troops of the Boy Scouts of America) and individuals.

One anonymous benefactor recently provided funding to expand the facility’s operations with a new cooler and freezer, additional floor space, a six-bay receiving garage, and four delivery trucks used to gather food donations from area grocery stores, bakeries, convenience stores and restaurants.

To supplement food donations, the program annually uses cash donations to purchase non-perishables – including $125,000 for milk, $60,000 for eggs and $100,000 for fresh produce – in order to keep its shelves stocked. This bounty was complemented by nearly 60,000 hours of donated service effort by 383 volunteers.

Clare says growing needs evidenced this year will drive these statistics dramatically higher for 2009.

 

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Nancy Coonen of Menasha pulls a cart full of donated clothing toward the sorting area at the Community Clothes Closet, one of three programs located in the Midway Outreach Community campus in Menasha. (Kasi Koshollek | For The Compass)

I was naked… Community Clothes Closet is another resident of the Midway Outreach Community campus, providing free, new and gently used clothing to those in need.

 

“Our job is to camouflage poverty,” says Diane Bishop, executive director. She says over 355,000 articles of clothing and related items such as school supplies, linens and towels have already been distributed at the close of this year’s third quarter – more than was distributed in all of 2008.

Like other programs on this campus, the clothing program is completely dependent on the generosity of individuals, grants, service groups, area church communities and local businesses such as Bill Paul Ltd., Talbots, Christopher Banks, CJ Banks, Half Price Books, School Specialty, Empty My Closet, Echoes, JanSport, Fleet Farm, Torrid, Chic to Chic, J. Jill, Gunderson Cleaners and many, many others.

Serving 80 to 100 families per hour during store hours, Bishop says it’s not uncommon to see over 1,000 items – including winter coats, hats, boots and mittens – go out the door within a two-hour period. An attractive and dignified shopping area has specialized categories for professionals seeking employment, back-to-school, babies and formal wear.

“I want people out there who donate and volunteer to know they are making a difference and I’m grateful,” says one newly outfitted client. Adds another: “I am grateful when I can get myself something pretty and then I feel better about myself.”

When I was hungry… When I was thirsty … When I was naked …

As Mary and Joseph humbly searched for shelter in anticipation of Christ’s birth, so do our brothers and sisters in Christ search for the basic necessities for life; and so can we find Christ in their very faces; and so is it revealed that our efforts have really little to do with charity at all, but rather justice in very pure form.

People served by Community Clothes Closet have been screened by human service agencies such as St. Joseph Food Program, the Salvation Army, Harbor House, Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley, Inc., and Red Cross.

I was a stranger… LEAVEN (Limited Emergency Assistance Valley Ecumenical Network) started with the vision of Capuchin Fr. Robert Udulutsch, a local priest who saw the need for a bridge between hardship and hope – a network providing emergency assistance to the needy of the Fox Valley area. Supported by local individuals, churches, businesses and foundations, LEAVEN provides emergency financial assistance for housing, utilities, transportation and other basic human needs.

In the wake of these services is the appreciation of the many who, once served by these ministries and nurtured back to independence, subsequently return as volunteers to serve others in appreciation for the sustenance, dignity and respect they found here.

To learn more about food, clothing or emergency assistance for those in need, contact St. Joseph Food Program (734-9462), Community Clothes Closet (731-7834) or LEAVEN (738-9635).

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