For the third year, St. Anthony Claret Shelter, Springfield, will offer homeless men in the Springfield area a warm and inviting place to stay when the weather turns cold and snowy. The shelter, located in the parish hall of Sacred Heart Church, Springfield, is open twice a week from November 1 through March 31 and provides beds for 25 men.
New for this year, and recently blessed and celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by Bishop Edward M. Rice, is a laundry facility and a handicap accessible shower for the homeless men to use. Thanks to donations, the St. Anthony Claret Shelter is one of the few shelters in Springfield that offers these services for the homeless. The shower is open every Tuesday, from 1-4 pm.
“We really offer a multi-service shelter here,” said Fr. Ray Smith, CMF, pastor of Sacred Heart Church. “Every Monday, Panera donates bread that we distribute to those in need. People who know about the offer come in and they’ll get bread. We will, of course, share it with anyone who comes through and has needs.”
Many restaurants and companies in the north Springfield area donate food for the kitchen.
“Someone donated a large freezer for our use, and an entire third of a cow for us, we never run out of food. Praise Jesus!” said Fr. Smith.
“We’re now offering Narcotics Anonymous (NA) here twice a week, and you’ll have folks in need through that group as well. We have some outside groups that use this facility in addition to NA,” Fr. Smith said.
The men who will stay overnight in the shelter are transported by City Utilities, which provides transportation from Grace United Methodist Church to different shelters around town. The men are precleared at Grace Methodist for overnight shelter and will arrive by bus. Because the St. Anthony Claret Shelter serves a hot dinner meal, they are the first stop. During large snowstorms, the shelter will remain open and shelter persons for 24 hours until the bus is running again.
“So often these folks don’t get regular meals, don’t get hot meals. One of the things we want to do as Catholic witnesses is the element of treating individuals with dignity. So, we make the effort to give them a hot dinner and a hot breakfast whenever possible,” said Fr. Smith. “And we work with all six of our Springfield parishes for our volunteer base. The hot meals are served with real plates, cups, or utensils. It’s a simple act to show dignity to each person who finds shelter here.”
In addition to the hot meal, snacks are always on-hand because they may not have eaten for a couple of days, and some of them, even if they just ate, are still hungry. The shelter works in collaboration with Saint Joseph Catholic Academy, Springfield, which often provides snacks.
“We have one of the best kitchens here in Sacred Heart. Brother Manolo [Br. Manuel ‘Manolo’ Benavides, CMF], with our community, made the mosaic for our 40th anniversary that is featured in our serving area in the shelter,” said Fr. Smith.
Sheets and blankets used in the overnight shelter have been provided through donations from Mercy and Cox hospitals. The Community Partnership of the Ozarks donated a cart full of large jugs of shampoo for the shower dispensers. Walmart has donated blankets. A large wooden storage cabinet was built by Sacred Heart Parish staff member Glenn Eckl to hold supplies. Although not a full clothing ministry distributor, the shelter also has a hanging clothes rack with clothing donations to offer to the men in need who use the shelter.
“And so as it is, when starting one ministry, you get two more. These blessings come,” said Fr. Smith. “St. Agnes Cathedral (Springfield) is good about keeping us up on underwear, it’s amazing. We have towels for days. Once you ask, you really do receive as Jesus promised. You won’t get one house: You’ll get 10 houses. And that’s how donations happen sometimes. We are so grateful for the support from the diocese, both financially and for the volunteers.”
VOLUNTEERS ARE NEEDED!
Both men and women are welcome to volunteer for the shelter. There is always at least one man staffed for the overnight shift and to help with shower oversight. An overnight staff typically consists of 10 volunteers, but it is expected to increase to 12 this year because of the new shower and laundry facilities and the additional needs from these services. Volunteers could help with dinner preparation and serving/clean up. Individuals and groups should contact the church for specific times.
“Our real need is the middle of the night shifts. That is the big challenge,” Fr. Smith said. “Our team would like to add a third day for shelter, but it really depends on the volunteer base we have. We started with nothing more than our parishioners and we made it through two months with just that. Then we opened it up to the other parishes, with the sense that I’d like this to be not just the Sacred Heart shelter. This is the Catholic Shelter at Sacred Heart.”
The shelter is having what Fr. Smith calls unexpected, beautiful, consequences. One being that this ministry is bringing together parishioners from all area parishes. “We have so few activities that do that. Most folks stay active in their parish and don’t get to meet people from other parishes,” said Fr. Smith. “But in this activity, after one evening, you have people from Saint Agnes (Cathedral), IC (Immaculate Conception), Holy Trinity, and SEAS (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton) come together as volunteers. They’ve never met each other, and they get these chances to form new connections. That’s what our Catholic church should do.”
Fr. Smith shared that one of the things he found beautiful about the shelter ministry is the backstories. “Sacred Heart Parish is approximately 50/50, maybe 60/40, Hispanic. And we’ll have nights or periods where many of the servers will be from the Hispanic community. Imagine, you are an immigrant and come to your new country and you’re caring for the homeless in your new parish home. And I just think that speaks volumes of their faith, that’s one of those little backstories that people don’t see. But in most church ministries, yeah, all those little backstories are always happening.” He also shared that some of the men who use the shelter will re-engage with their Catholic faith, and some will receive the sacraments.
“We had a man come to the shelter who had grown up as a child in this parish. Because of the connection through this ministry, I was able to offer him last rites at the hospital before he passed from an illness,” Fr. Smith said.
Although Sacred Heart is a small parish, Fr. Smith hopes that the work done there will inspire others to step up into this ministry. “Last year, in preparation for a major snowstorm expected for the Springfield area, we helped coordinate with shelters around town and had other churches step up to help and do what they could do to help offer shelter here at Sacred Heart. If just a few more churches would help us add just 10 beds this year, that would make a huge difference. As the Claretians do, we try to follow the vision of St. Anthony Mary Claret in our ministry and serve those in most need.”
Anyone interested in volunteering or donating to the shelter may call Sacred Heart Parish, Springfield, at (417) 256-2556. ©TM
Published in the October 27, 2023 issue of The Mirror, written by Paula Wright
Photo Source: Grace Tamburro/The Mirror