October 29, 2010

A time to ‘SHINE’: Catholics across the archdiocese respond to call to help people in need

At the Interfaith Winter Shelter in Bloomington, volunteers worked together last winter to get beds ready for homeless people to spend the night. Parishioners at St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington will once again be involved in the shelter, which will be open overnight from Nov. 1 through March 31. (Submitted photo)

At the Interfaith Winter Shelter in Bloomington, volunteers worked together last winter to get beds ready for homeless people to spend the night. Parishioners at St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington will once again be involved in the shelter, which will be open overnight from Nov. 1 through March 31. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: Twelve months ago, the archdiocese started a yearlong ministry that called every Catholic to a life of service. Led by Catholic Charities, the initiative became known as SHINE—which stands for “Spreading Hope in Neighborhoods Everywhere.” Here is a look at some of the ways that parishes and individuals across the archdiocese have responded to the call to make a difference to people in need.)

By John Shaughnessy

Like a buffet filled with your favorite foods, the outreach effort in Tell City that is called Table of Blessings has left everyone smiling and satisfied.

Sitting at the table every Thursday evening are the elderly people who appreciate the free hot meal and the opportunity to spend time with others.

Also at the table are young families, including the one family whose mother says that her children look forward to the weekly community meal because “it’s like eating out at a restaurant for them”—an outing that the family can’t afford otherwise.

Those kinds of connections are exactly what the organizers hoped for with Table of Blessings—the weekly meal program that is the combined effort of four Churches in Tell City, including St. Paul Parish.

The effort is led by Joan Hess, the agency director of Catholic Charities Tell City, and Steve and Jane Upmeyer, who are members of the Evangelical United Church of Christ. Members of the First Baptist Church and the First United Methodist Church are also involved.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time because we didn’t have a meal program in the area,” Hess says. “I talked to Jane, and she said that she and her husband always wanted to do something, too. It’s really been an ecumenical type of thing.”

The focus has also been on providing an extra helping of dignity for the people who come to the dinner. There are no sign-in sheets and no questions, just an invitation to eat at a table with china, silverware and glasses. The menu has included meatloaf, grilled chicken breasts, spaghetti and chicken potpies. Donated homemade cakes, cookies and cobbler have filled the dessert trays.

“And we always make sure we have ice cream,” Hess says with a laugh. “They revolt if there isn’t ice cream.”

About 70 people came for a recent dinner.

“We feel [like] we’re making a difference for the people who come to eat,” Jane Upmeyer says. “Some of the elderly enjoy the social aspect of it. And the people who volunteer are from all over the community. People who normally wouldn’t work together are working together.”

“We’re really glad we chose the name Table of Blessings,” Hess says. “It’s such a blessing for everybody, including those of us who work on it. We’re a small community. We all have to work together. We’re there to do the work of Christ, and share our blessings with everyone. It’s been wonderful.”

A lasting impact

First, there was the reaction of surprise and delight for Dominican Father Robert Keller, the pastor of St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington.

A short while later, a moment of panic and worry followed for the priest.

The surprise and delight came after Father Keller checked a sign-up sheet at the church seeking potential volunteers to help staff the Interfaith Winter Shelter, an overnight homeless ministry in Bloomington. Nearly 80 people had signed up.

The feeling of panic and worry came after Father Keller committed to staffing the shelter on Thursday nights. Looking at the calendar for the last two months of 2009, he soon realized that his parish was responsible for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

“I thought, ‘How are we going to get enough people for those nights?’ ” Father Keller recalls. “We ended up with about 25 people for those nights.”

That sense of commitment has marked the parish’s approach to the Interfaith Winter Shelter, an ecumenical effort that was started by Trinity Episcopal Church in Bloomington. Volunteers are already signed up to help at the shelter’s four sites, which will be open overnight from Nov. 1 to March 31.

“The people who helped last year never had a chance to talk to and listen to a homeless person before,” Father Keller says. “They discovered that a lot of these people have very tragic situations in their lives. Doing this is part of our Christian call. It’s a very tangible experience of applying the Gospel. There’s an immediate contact with a human being who is in distress. People would talk about how they could see Christ in these people.”

Michael Gastineau is one of the St. Paul parishioners who was moved by that experience. He helped to “check in” the homeless people who came to the shelter last winter. He plans to take an even larger role this winter as a site director.

“It had a lasting impact on me,” he says. “They [the homeless people] helped me appreciate the life [that] I have, and they helped me to see the world in a different way. It made me want to get more involved.

“Being able to help people is what Jesus did. He was love, pure and simple, especially with people that society looked down on. Doing this is something [that] I believe in. It’s definitely strengthened my faith.”

A mother’s concern

As the mother of five children ranging in age from 17 to 3, Carol Etling is limited in the amount of extra time she has for anything that extends beyond family concerns.

Still, she carved enough time in her life to participate in a JustFaith Ministries program in the Terre Haute Deanery, a program where people “study, explore and experience Christ’s call to care for the poor and vulnerable.”

As part of the Terre Haute Deanery group, Etling has served the homeless at two shelters and learned about the principles of ecological justice at the White Violet Center at nearby Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She has also worked with, and helped to prepare a meal for, members of the Ryves Neighborhood Association in Terre Haute, an association that provides a voice for the residents of that economically struggling area.

“It’s really deepened my feeling of community in my parish and other areas, and made me more aware of people who are all around me,” says Etling, a member of St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute. “They’re not just faces. They’re people. I see Christ in them.”

She is now helping with a deanery project that will benefit the Catholic Charities Terre Haute food bank, which serves people in seven counties in western Indiana. The Soup Bowl Benefit on Feb. 5 combines the efforts of artists, businesses and volunteers. Local artists will create pottery bowls that can be bought for $25 and filled with soup.

“As the mother of five children, I don’t feel like I have the time to do the things I hope to do or need to do to help people,” Etling says. “There are people in the world who need so much. One of the things [that] I can do as a mother is to teach my children—to let them know the poor are there, and we have to care for them.” †

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