Given our location in downtown Tampa, we encounter a range of people — individuals and families, poor and needy — that present their needs and hopes. Our parishioners experience one aspect of those petitions every Sunday as folks gather at or near our church: people asking for money, people selling palm crosses, folks asking for assistance of all kinds. A smaller group of parishioners who make up the Hands of Hope Ministry, see another view as each Saturday they prepare, meet, greet, and feed about 150-200 people. The crowds are always larger at the end of the month when money is a little tighter. The parish staff sees another aspect of the needs from people who daily and constantly come to the office, call, or are referred to us by another charitable entity. Some of these people we can assist, some we cannot because of the request, some we help discern what agency is better equipped to assist them and their need.
An example might be someone requesting financial assistance to return to “home” somewhere outside of Florida. We work with Metropolitan Ministry on such a request. Metro Min ensures that there is someone “there” who will receive the individual and ensure they have a place to stay when they arrive. If all is good, then we share the ticket cost with Metro Min and perhaps other agencies.
There are times when the staff refers someone to our chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVdP) for whom we collect funds twice a month. SVdP, inspired by Gospel values, is a Catholic lay organization, leading women and men to join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person services to those who are needy and suffering. The members of our SVdP chapter visit folks in their homes to assess the expressed need and see if there is a larger context of need. They operate on limited funds, and so they discern what might be best in any given month. The goal is to help the person or family get through the current situation but not necessarily journey with the person or family in the long term.
In other words, the parish’s outreach to the poor and needy runs across a spectrum of responses. It consists not only of the work of individuals and a specific ministry, but sometimes our response is a joint effort across several ministries. In the bulletin two weeks ago there was a great article about a joint project: “On Saturday, Dec. 21, 14 volunteers from Sacred Heart Ministries’ Open Doors, Men’s Prayer Group and Love In the Name of Christ (INC) completed phase one of an apartment refresh for Anna B., a single mom of six children, ages 11-4.” The article went on to describe the outreach from our parish that helped a family move from shelters and foster care, to a stable home environment. If you would like to see a video of the Anna B. story, you can watch it at the end of this blog.
Many people recognized the parish ministries but asked about Love INC (In the Name of Christ)? Love INC is an independent 501(c)3 organization that was founded by parishioners Ann and Mike Doyle. Sacred Heart is a founding member church and continues to support the ministry with financial aid and with volunteers. As you can see in the above paragraph, many of our parish ministries work with Love INC as part of their outreach and a way in which they courageously live the Gospel.
The Love INC mission is to mobilize local churches to transform lives and communities in the Name of Christ. Their vision is to see Christian churches united in purpose and fully engaged in actively living out their faith by lovingly serving people in need in their communities. From its beginning several years ago, Love INC has brought together a number of Christian churches to work together and locally serve the poor and help individuals and families to live a self-sustaining life of dignity. Perhaps simply put: Love INC does not hand out fish. It teaches people to fish. And that is at another end of the spectrum of our parish’s charitable response.
In discussion with Love INC – which is really parishioners talking with each other given the large presence of Sacred Heart folks involved with the ministry – it became clear that Love INC and the parish would benefit from a Love INC Metro Tampa having a “central office” as well as “local offices” at the church level. Part of the Love INC model is that their guests need to journey to healing and wholeness with a local faith community. Training and having a local Love INC presence in the parish seemed like a natural next step.
As a result, we proposed a pilot program to Holy Name Province Benevolence Fund to develop, model, test and implement a program of a Love INC local presence in the parish/church. The grant was awarded and we (Love INC and Sacred Heart) are working to make our idea a reality. We have a small team of parishioners forming to see what best works, to undergo training, and to begin to see how we, as a parish, can extend our “spectrum” of the way we extend our service to the poor and needy.
There is no one answer to the complex question of poverty and need in our community. There is the command of Scripture to “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col 3:12) We are each called to discern how to best live that holy charge. May you discern what is yours to do.