The Joseph House Crisis Center has remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing food and financial assistance to people in need. As a safety precaution, each person has to wait outside until his or her name is called. We do this so everyone can maintain social distancing inside the building.
Those who have cars wait inside their vehicles. A number of people, however, have no choice but to walk to the Crisis Center. They wait outside on the benches along the walkway, staying six feet apart. This waiting area is covered by a roof, but it was very much exposed to the elements on one side. People waiting were getting wet and cold on days of miserable, windy, rainy and snowy weather. We hated to see them trying to stay warm and dry.
Sam Jones, a Knight of Columbus and longtime volunteer, saw the problem and responded without delay. He and two brother Knights installed large, heavy-duty tarps below the roof line to act as a wind barrier. It has made a big difference in protecting people from the weather.
The Hospitality Room at the Crisis Center has also remained open during the pandemic. It is a day shelter for men and women who are homeless, offering food, showers, and laundry services. Since there are strict limits on how many people can be inside at one time, visitors to the Hospitality Room also appreciate this modification to our outside waiting area.
We highlight this project to show how a simple idea and a little effort can have a positive impact on many people.
To Sam and his fellow workers, we extend a heartfelt “Thank You!”
Each day we are getting closer to the time when pandemic precautions are no longer necessary. The effort of every single person to stay healthy and to slow the spread of the virus brings all of us closer to that time.
February 14 is of course Valentine’s Day, but the day has another special meaning for us in that it’s the birthday of the Joseph House Crisis Center.
It was on February 14, 1984, that the Crisis Center officially opened, the beginning of a new era for the Joseph House ministry. The building where it’s located also received a new lease on life. Back in the early 1980s, the structure (a small warehouse) was being used to store voting machines for Wicomico County. The county was renting the property from the Campbell Soup Company, which used to have a plant in Salisbury. Through the diligent efforts of the mayor’s office and community leaders, use of the building was given to the Joseph House.
Although the building was a tremendous gift, and we desperately needed the space, it was far from being ready for its new purpose. As noted in the February 1984 edition of this Newsletter, what was to be the future home of the Joseph House possessed only a leaky roof, cement floors, and cinder block walls. In other words, “It was a start from scratch project.” But thankfully, many people rose to the challenge of the renovation, a testimony to their concern for the less fortunate.
The project took about three months under the supervision of Jim Berrigan. Local businesses donated supplies and tennis promoter Bill Riordan covered the extra costs. According to our Newsletter, “Almost all of the ordinary construction work was done by jobless men who had come to us for help. How fitting that the haven for the poor should be built by the hands of the poor.”
Home renovation TV shows are common today, and we are used to seeing people walking through “oohing” and “aahing” at all the marvelous changes. Well, that gives you an idea of what Opening Day was like. Here’s more from our Newsletter archive:
“We had set February 14th as our opening day, and although it was not quite finished we opened at 9:30 A.M. There was a considerable group that attended, and each person who entered was pleasantly surprised at the space, convenience and warmth of our new quarters…We noted that the most surprised persons were the two gentlemen who secured the use of the building from Campbell Soup. They were flabbergasted at the change.”
In the history of the Joseph House, building projects are a recurring theme. St. Joseph is our patron, after all. The transformations involving wood and brick are only part of the story, however. A change also occurs in the people who bring to life the Crisis Center and our other ministries. “I am not the same person I was,” they often say.
Our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth, was well aware of this. She once said:
“One of the great joys that I had is that many of the people who come here to volunteer…have changed their attitudes about the poor completely, and have become people who are seeking for justice and peace….Without any arguments, without trying to persuade people, they have simply seen by the way of life that they adopted, after they came to help, that the world wasn’t the way it was when they first came.”
These personal transformations are not surprising because every instance of loving and serving the poor is an encounter with Christ.
The Crisis Center is a symbol of hope in more ways than one. Its creation and birth is a story of how government, businesses, religious groups, and private citizens all worked together on behalf of those in need. Its mission continues through your support. Sr. Mary Elizabeth articulated this mission very simply: “We do anything that the poor need. We are free, that’s the beauty of our work. We are absolutely free to do anything that the poor person needs.”
Freedom has a purpose, to do what is right and good, and Sister wanted our freedom to be used to help stabilize family life. We do this by offering assistance to people facing crisis situations.
Cassandra and her family experienced a real nightmare. A fire destroyed their mobile home in the middle of the night (it was caused by a space heater). No one was injured, but all of their belongings became a burned and soggy mess. After being assisted by the Red Cross for two days, this family had nowhere to go. We paid for a week at a motel ($392), gave them groceries, a gasoline voucher, and a small sum of cash, and provided Christmas gifts for the four young children. Cassandra does condominium cleaning to earn a few hundred dollars per month. She used the week in the motel to find another place to rent.
Gabe, 37, got sick with COVID-19 and was not able to work for a while. His wife is pregnant and does not have a job. Gabe’s unemployment was delayed and he needed rental help to avoid being evicted. We sent $313 to his landlord.
Sofia and Ken have five children and are homeless. They have been living in motels for a few months. Sofia lost her job at a school because of the pandemic. Ken is also unemployed. With their money running out they needed help paying for a motel over Christmas. Sofia was scheduled to return to work in January. We paid the motel bill of $392.
Katrina, 29, a single mother of two, has also been living in a motel (for eight months). She works at a pizza place, earns about $300 per week, and almost all of it goes to the motel. We paid for one week to help her save for an apartment.
2020 CRISIS CENTER RECAP
Last year, more than ever, we had to abandon ourselves to the Providence of God. Like everyone else, we had to adapt quickly to changing circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Crisis Center remained open and we implemented safety protocols, namely mask wearing and social distancing. Out of necessity, the Soup Kitchen was closed in March because it lacked the space to keep patrons safely apart (it won’t reopen until the virus is under control). Overall, less people visited us than in previous years, probably because they received a stimulus check and/or extended unemployment benefits. But these relief efforts only go so far—when people really need help, we are here for them.
The pandemic touched us directly in December when a staff member tested positive for the virus (which had been contracted elsewhere). Out of an abundance of caution we closed the Crisis Center for ten days, but no additional infections occurred. The staff member was hospitalized and has since recovered. We reopened the week before Christmas, with plenty of time for our Christmas gift distribution. Thank you for your support of the Crisis Center!
1,118 checks and payments were issued to assist with critical needs; 4,505 hot meals were served; 5,232 bags of groceries were given out; 308 households per month (on average) received food; 3,838 requests were made for services at our Hospitality Room for the Homeless (showers, laundry, clothing, food); 138 winter coats were given away; 415 children received Christmas gift bags.
LENT BEGINS FEBRUARY 17
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Matthew 6:5-6)
Many of us are spending more time alone than usual because of the pandemic. During this time of avoiding large gatherings, the words of Jesus from the Gospel remind us that God is always with us. If there are habits and activities that distract us too much in solitude, perhaps we can fast from them periodically and rest in the sanctity of our “inner room.”
The three pillars of Lent are prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. If you need special prayers for a particular need, please let us know. We will add our prayers to yours: Contact Form
The work of the Joseph House depends on private donations. Your support is gratefully received: Donate
As God changes us, we change the world in which we live. We get a little bit closer to a world of harmony and peace and of just being good neighbors to each other. Our dedication to the poor, the sick, marginalized, and vulnerable will always keep us on the right track. Let us continue to make this journey together, as faithful friends united in our care for all of God’s children.