One of the greatest myths about Catholic Charities is that it only serves Catholics. This is not true. Many have heard about Jesus’ reaching out to the Samaritan woman sinner at the well; like Jesus, who reached out to all people, so too does Catholic Charities. In fact nearly 80% of all the people whom we serve are non-Catholic.
As we strive to reach out to all others, we are living Pope Francis’ call to ecumenism:
“Ecumenism is a contribution not only to the unity of the Church, but also to the unity of the human family. It fosters fruitful, peaceful and fraternal coexistence.” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, n. 245 – 12/1/14)
In this spirit, Catholic Charities attends as many community fairs as possible. Three such events fall typify the three distinct groupings these typically fall into:
- Religious Catholic: Joseph’s the Worker Feast Day Community Fair on May 1st
- Religious Non-Catholic: Faithworks Ministries Annual Community Awareness Fair on June 25th
- Secular: Raymond James Employee’s Community Fair on July 21st
Catholic Charities joined several social service provider, including St. Anthony’s Hospital, at the inaugural St. Joseph the Worker Feast Day celebration for the Latino community of West Tampa which was being organized by Fr Carlos José Rojas, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church. Over 100 attended the event and Catholic Charities was the lead service provider, represented by the following ministries: Catholic Charities Free Medical Clinic at San Jose Mission, Immigration services and the Foundations of Life Pregnancy Center – Hillsborough as well as Catholic Charities Adoption Services. Our own Erixis Lopez, physician assistant at San Jose Mission, did double duty providing translation services to the St. Anthony’s group. In addition to handing out literature and information, free medical screenings were conducted (blood pressure and diabetes testing). Event attendees enjoyed the delicious homemade, hot meals which were sold along with refreshments as energizing Latin music played throughout the school cafeteria.
Faithworks Ministries International inaugural event held on June 25th was attended by numerous groups including the Tampa Housing Authority, the Family Resource Center, the Poison Control Center, Champions for Children, the Spring (98 bed domestic violence facility), Reach Up (family health advocates), and Tampa Family Health Centers. Faithworks was founded by former professional football player, Pastor Kenneth Grant and his wife, Lady Trevas Gant this past Easter Sunday. Gant, a Tampa native and one-time Super Bowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL, was called by God to start his own ministry and in the short time they’ve been open they have nearly 200 members.
Pastor Grant said his motivation for starting Faithworks Ministries was to “help people in family unity, now!” Asked why him and why now, Grant said, “I felt the calling of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit told me to do something for the community. The time is now! I think God is calling me and he told me to go to the south side where we found this building from Without Walls.” His goals for his ministry: I’m “issuing the love affair with God, trying to bring God in it in a family atmosphere and I get to teach them to forgive family members.”
The fair was well received with over 100 visitors enjoying a complimentary continental breakfast as they spoke with agency representatives, received information, literature and basic medical screenings. Children not forced to stay with their parent(s) were accompanied by older teens and spent the morning playing in the inflatable combination bouncing house-slide. As the morning turned to afternoon, everyone was treated to a delicious, grill-cooked hamburger and hotdog lunch.
Raymond James, a leading employer in the area, is a strong proponent of corporate social responsibility and encourages its employees to do so as well. The annual community fair is a manifestation of that principle. Numerous local private and public groups attend the event that is intended to make Raymond James employees aware of the social service providers and their missions. The goal is for employees to connect with those that appeal to them and contribute to it either financially or through volunteering.
This year’s event was attended by between 200 and 300 employees over the 2 ½ hour session. Over fifty service providers included, Metropolitan Ministries, Dress for Success (provides appropriate interview clothes for low income women), Habitat for Humanity, CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse), American Red Cross, JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Relief Foundation), Big Brothers Big Sisters, the YMCA, Junior Achievement and many, many more.
This year’s Catholic Charities focus was on Pinellas Hope’s Hope Cottages™ $1.5 million funding initiative. In Raymond James’ backyard, Pinellas Hope, a temporary emergency shelter provider to 250 homeless men and women, is transitioning its living accommodations from tents to Hope Cottages. Hope Cottages are repurposed 20-foot steel shipping containers. Each container is converted into three, approximately 50 square foot living quarters with a bed, a lockable door, a light, electrical outlet and an air conditioning unit. In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Colin, which destroyed 70 tents and damaged 50 others, causing as much as $10,000 in damage, the transition to these safe (can withstand Category 4 Hurricane Winds) living quarters was visibly reinforced. While most of the employees who stopped by the Pinellas Hope booth were aware of Pinellas Hope, most were unaware of Hope Cottages, underscoring our need to continue to drive awareness of this critical initiative.
Reaching out to community groups – Catholic, non-Catholic, and secular – is a critical part of Catholic Charities’ strategy of making others aware of our life-promoting and life-enhancing programs that serve those most in need within our communities. Need knows no color, no sex, no language, no ethnicity, and certainly no religious affiliation. With that spirit in mind, we will continue to let those in need know we are here to serve them with charity and compassion with the goal of lifting them up in dignity while respecting their sanctity as a child of God. We are called to do nothing less.