The poor always need more than food. Often a person who cannot afford to eat desperately needs someone to help them find a job. Someone who wants to work and has preschool children might not be able to afford day care. Those struggling to make ends meet put their health on the line because they cannot afford medical and dental care. Those who come to emergency shelters need help getting their lives back on track through education, job assistance and counseling in life skills.
That’s why the Ministry of Caring’s programs extend far beyond the Emmanuel Dining Room, its most visible and basic program to feed the hungry. The Ministry of Caring includes 19 integrated programs that lift up the poor by addressing their many needs and guiding them to self-sufficiency.
These programs include three locations of the Emmanuel Dining Room; four emergency shelters where the homeless can stay up to 45 days; five transitional residences that are the next step toward independent living; four permanent houses for people with special needs, ranging from women with mental disabilities to those in the advanced stages of AIDS; three childcare centers; a medical van and a dental office; a job placement center; a distribution center that provides donated clothing, furniture and household items; housing, nutrition and activity programs for seniors; and an outreach program that provides intensive case management and housing referral services for homeless people.
Anyone who has ever passed the Emmanuel Dining Room on Jackson Street in Wilmington at breakfast or noontime has seen many men, women and children lined up for a meal, which for some might be their only meal of the day. The Emmanuel Dining Room has two additional sites—a second in Wilmington, and one in New Castle. In total, the three sites serve an average of 585 meals a day—up to 900 at the end of the month when people tend to run out of money.
The food at Emmanuel Dining Room is nutritious: a recent weekday featured a main course of rice, beans and ground beef with broccoli, brownies, and coffee as well as milk for the children. And the service stands apart. Instead of going through a serving line, patrons are warmly welcomed and served at their tables by volunteers. It’s yet another way of fulfilling the ministry’s motto of never treating the poor poorly. “We want to feed our guests food, of course, but also to feed their spirits,” says Capuchin Brother Miguel Ramirez, Emmanuel Dining Room director.
“Volunteers are the heart of the dining rooms,” he adds. They are individuals like Thea Kersey, a former Cambodian refugee who understands what it’s like to search in trash cans for food. They are former guests who return to help those who haven’t yet overcome adversity. And they are the many volunteers from 99 churches, synagogues, employer and community groups.
People come to the dining room for a variety of reasons. They may be homeless, living under the I-95 bridge near Jackson Street; they may have lost their jobs, been bankrupted by medical bills, or had their gas or electricity turned off because they couldn’t pay. That’s why the dining room also provides referrals to other Ministry of Caring programs.
Christina Sanchez has come a long way in the past two years. In 2011, she hit rock bottom with her alcoholism, lost her home and was denied access to her three daughters. She entered detox, then rehab and began living at Mary Mother of Hope House I, one of 13 Ministry of Caring emergency, transitional and permanent houses. Currently in transitional housing with the Ministry of Caring, Sanchez plans to move into permanent housing within a few months.
“There are many more ‘Christinas’ out there,” says Annie Mountain, director of Hope House I and Bethany House. And they come to the ministry’s housing programs for a wide variety of reasons beyond addiction. Some have lost their jobs and homes; others have experienced a devastating divorce, have escaped domestic violence or have exited foster care at age 18.
Sanchez was determined to improve her life, and she has. With the support of the ministry, she earned her GED and is now enrolled in the early childhood care and education program at Delaware Technical Community College. She also sees her daughters regularly. Alcoholism and poor dental care had taken a toll on teeth and her ability to chew, so the Ministry arranged for her to have extensive dental care at its Pierre Toussaint Dental Office.
“Christina was always smiling. She’s beaming now,” Mountain says.
“Just having the feeling that someone cares, that gives you hope. The Ministry of Caring makes women stronger,” Sanchez says. “Even if there are obstacles along the way, I know that I’m going to make it.”
A year and a half ago, Kim Ali came to the Ministry’s Mary Mother of Hope House II, an emergency shelter, after she lost her residence. “I came into the shelter with nothing but the clothes on my back,” she says. In order to get back on her feet, attend school and get a job, she needed child care for her then 6-month-old daughter, Khianna.
That’s when the ministry referred her to its Child Care Center, where Khianna has been cared for ever since. “I love the day care center and the people in it. The teachers are wonderful,” Ali says. With the Child Care Center’s sliding fee scale and a subsidy from the state, Ali pays $63.50 a week for Khianna’s care. The security of safe, affordable child care that provides true learning experiences enables Ali to work full time for the state of Delaware as a social worker.
“Our goal is to nurture every child, to make them feel loved and respected,” says Paulette Annane, program director for the ministry’s three child care centers, which care for 153 children from infants to 4-year-olds. “Our centers are bright, clean havens for children who might live in shelters or in unsafe neighborhoods. We provide age-appropriate education, three hot meals a day and loving care,” she adds.
When Bill Pearson, now 76, was informed that the rental property he lived in was going to be sold, he didn’t know what to do. He lives on a fixed income and simply couldn’t afford the fair-market rate for apartments. “I don’t know how anybody my age could,” he says. Then he found Sacred Heart Village in Wilmington, a complex with 78 one-bedroom apartments for low-income people age 62 and older.
Pearson considers it a godsend in his life. Rent at Sacred Heart is charged at 30 percent of a resident’s income, with allowances for financial obligations including medical expenses. “It’s comforting to know that as I get older and my medical expenses go up, my rent will go down,” he says.
Pearson is lucky to have family in the region and to be healthy enough to be active in a multitude of community endeavors. For some at Sacred Heart, however, the staff and residents are their only family and social outlet. No matter what their situation, though, they all appreciate the camaraderie at Sacred Heart and its comprehensive facilities. “Sacred Heart Village has it all,” Pearson says.
Unfortunately, it also has 100 people on its waiting list. The Ministry of Caring hopes to make progress on that waiting list by beginning construction soon of Sacred Heart Village II on Wilmington’s East Side. As the region’s population grows older and the cost of housing continues to go up, the need for low-income housing for the elderly will accelerate.
“Our senior neighbors need and deserve safe, caring and quality affordable living,” says Sacred Heart Village Executive Director Brother Ronald Giannone, OFM Cap. “Providing for them is a mission that we at Sacred Heart Village take very seriously, and one that we will continue to fulfill to the best of our ability.”
Two years ago, Mary Ruggiero’s retail employer cut back her hours severely after the December holidays. With her husband, Ronald, and their teenage daughter, Danielle, now 19, also unemployed, the family could no longer make ends meet. Soon after, they lost their home. But there was hope on the horizon.
The Ministry of Caring’s Job Placement Center began working with Mary and Ronald to find temporary housing for the family (which included a young grandson) and to help Mary and Ronald find jobs that could sustain them.
“They were totally relentless in helping us find employment. They never gave up,” says Mary, who recently marked 18 months of employment at Shop-Rite. Ronald has worked at the La-Z-Boy warehouse for a year. The family now lives in a rental home in downtown Wilmington.
The Ministry’s Job Placement Center (JPC) annually places more than 60 people in permanent jobs at supermarkets, restaurants, cleaning services, security companies and other retail and service organizations. Some who come to the center are unemployed; others have jobs but need second or third jobs to be able to support themselves.
“We always try to find clients jobs above minimum wage, because you simply can’t live on that,” says Louisa Teoli, JPC’s program director. The Job Placement Center offers workshops in proper workplace standards and behaviors and works individually with each client on their job search. “They understand that we are not handing them anything. We are assisting them, which helps them become stronger and more independent,” Teoli says.
Executive Director Brother Ronald Giannone, OFM Cap., is known as the Ministry of Caring’s guiding light, but he never fails to credit the many employees, volunteers and donors who keep the ministry’s programs running day in and day out. “Without the help of our many supporters, we could not do the essential work that we do,” he says. “We are one serving the poor, and together, every day, we turn lives around.”
To learn more about helping the Ministry of Caring as a volunteer or a donor of goods or financial support, visit ministryofcaring.org or contact Priscilla Rakestraw, development director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 428-3702.