January 14, 2011

A special kind of warmth: Concern for less fortunate people leads to special outreach efforts in archdiocese

Now 11, Makenzie Smith of St. Mary Parish in Navilleton has led a coat collecting drive to help people in need for the past five years. This year, Makenzie’s Coat Closet collected more than 4,000 coats that were distributed to people from southern Indiana and northern Kentucky on Dec. 14, 2010. (Submitted photo/Kevin Smith)

Now 11, Makenzie Smith of St. Mary Parish in Navilleton has led a coat collecting drive to help people in need for the past five years. This year, Makenzie’s Coat Closet collected more than 4,000 coats that were distributed to people from southern Indiana and northern Kentucky on Dec. 14, 2010. (Submitted photo/Kevin Smith)

By John Shaughnessy

The memory of that night—and the question she didn’t ask the young man—haunted Kathy Bogan for a long time.

As usual on that wintry night, Bogan drove along the streets of Indianapolis with two volunteers, stopping to give soup, sandwiches, socks and sleeping bags to homeless people.

At one of the stops, Bogan met a young homeless man. As they sat and talked, the man began to cry, sharing with her that he had no place to go, and no one he knew in the city.

“Times like that are very emotional. They’re also very spiritual,” says Bogan, a member of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish in Indianapolis. “Like most of the people we meet, he was very thankful to God that we came along to help.”

Bogan listened to the young man. She also gave him some food and some things to help keep him warm. But as she drove away, she remembered there was one thing that she didn’t do, one question that she didn’t ask the young man, that bothered her.

“I usually ask their names so I can pray for them by name,” she says. “But I never asked him his name. For a long time, it bothered me, especially since I never saw him again.”

While that moment haunted her, it also inspired her in her volunteer efforts for a homeless ministry in Indianapolis called Helping Our Own People.

“Sometimes I think I don’t want to do this anymore,” says Bogan, who helps one evening a week. “But then I go out again. It’s because of the people we see out there. They feel blessed that we come to see them, and I get a feeling that maybe I’ve helped someone for a moment. All of us should do this at least once to see what it’s like out there.”

Bogan’s attitude and efforts reflect the commitment of many Catholics in the archdiocese who offer a touch of humanity to the homeless and other people in need during the winter.

That help and hope are there at the Interfaith Winter Shelter in Bloomington, an overnight homeless ministry that is staffed by parishioners of St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington.

It’s also there year-round in the efforts of staff members and volunteers at Bethany House in Terre Haute and Holy Family Shelter in Indianapolis, archdiocesan shelters that provide havens of hope for homeless families, married couples, expectant mothers and single parents with children.

“The archdiocese is very concerned about the homeless and cares about them,” says Bill Bickel, the director of Holy Family Shelter. “And there are so many volunteers across the archdiocese who show a really strong public witness to help the homeless. They are an extraordinary example of how people are always looking beyond themselves to help others.”

Concern for others is reflected in the heartwarming actions of 11-year-old Makenzie Smith and 84-year-old Mary Zinkan.

A special kind of warmth

For the past five years, Makenzie has led an amazing coat-collection drive as a member of St. Mary Parish in Navilleton in southern Indiana.

The girl started her coat drive when she was in the second grade and her teacher told her class that some people couldn’t even count on having a warm coat to wear in the winter.

Hoping to help, Makenzie collected 79 coats that first year. In 2010, her collection netted more than 4,000 coats, which were distributed to people from southern Indiana and northern Kentucky on Dec. 14 at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, Ky.

“We invite shelters, schools, individuals,” says Makenzie, now a sixth-grade student. “They come in, and they choose the coat they want. A woman came up to me and started crying. She was so thankful that she had a coat to keep her warm. And there was a man who walked in. He had a woman’s coat on that was tattered and torn. He was glad to get a man’s coat.”

Still, the moment that touched Makenzie the most involved a small girl.

“She was about 7 or 8,” Makenzie says. “She didn’t have a coat. I thought, ‘Wow, she’s about my age.’ I helped her find a coat.”

Makenzie gets a lot of help from people in her parish and school, Borden Elementary School in Clark County. Her coat drive is also a family effort that involves her parents, Kevin and Carrie Smith, and her younger siblings, Hayden and Delaney.

“It brings us closer as a family. We work together as a team, and it makes us feel fortunate,” Makenzie says. “I’m giving back to people in need. I just feel that God wants me to do this.”

That belief is shared by Mary Zinkan, the leading member of another homeless ministry in the archdiocese. It’s a group with an unusual name and a colorful gift for people who live on the streets.

The Ugly Quilt Committee

As the head of the Ugly Quilt Committee at Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, the 84-year-old Zinkan leads a team of volunteers who make sleeping bags for homeless people in the city.

The group made 45 sleeping bags that have been distributed to the homeless this winter—sleeping bags that were stitched together with thread, batting and pieces of cloth donated by members of the parish.

“It takes at least 14 feet of material to make each one of them,” says Zinkan, who has been coordinating this effort for the past six years. “That’s a lot of material. Fortunately, people bring things to my house and to church. They’re absolutely wonderful. People love to give.”

So does Zinkan.

“People have always been good to me my whole life so why shouldn’t I want to give back? And there are a lot of people in need,” she says. “It makes you feel good to help.”

Zinkan gives the sleeping bags to Kathy Bogan, the volunteer for the homeless ministry called Helping Our Own People. Bogan is a member of the office staff at Christ the King Parish.

“They [the homeless people] are very grateful for them,” Bogan says.

Members of the Ugly Quilt Committee attach a special tag to each sleeping bag. The tag reads, “Bless this person who receives this gift. Let them know that we made this for them because we love and care for them.”

“It’s a good thing for the people who are out there to know that someone cares for them,” Zinkan says. “It’s important that we reach out and help them. I think that’s what God would want us to do.”

(For more information about Bethany House, visit the website at www.CatholicCharitiesTerreHaute.org For more information about Holy Family Shelter, visit the website at www.holyfamilyshelter.net. For more information about Makenzie Smith’s coat collection efforts, visit the website at www.makenziescoatcloset.com. For more information about the organization Helping Our Own People, visit the website at www.HelpingOurOwnPeople.org.)

Local site Links: