Faith in Action

Volunteer, Connect, Make an Impact Through Catholic Social Service

Chuck at St Anthony'sLast month, 17 of us from Catholic Charities, the Chancery office, and St. Vincent de Paul Alameda and Contra Costa Counties participated in the Justice Education Day at St. Anthony’s Foundation in San Francisco. The work they do is inspiring and impressive: the dining room serves some 3,000 meals a day; the Free Clothing Program provides over 22,000 full sets of clothing to over 1,400 families, 3,000 children, and 5,500 single people a year; the Medical Clinic serves 3,300 patients a year; the Tech Lab has over 31,000 visits per year; and their Fr. Alfred Center provides in-resident recovery for 150 people a year. They do all of this with a deep commitment to dignity and respect of the person – and they do it very well. St. Anthony’s rocks!

We went there because our group, called Faith in Action, wanted to learn how social service organizations can provide opportunities to volunteer and serve related to issues of poverty and social justice. Our intent is that our Faith in Action group, which also includes the Deacon Community in the Diocese, can then create a program that provides volunteer opportunities and stimulates long-term engagement and commitment to social action and social justice that lasts a lifetime.

So what did I do? I went through the food line, got a tray of food, and then served it to a homeless person waiting at the table to be served. I did that again and again and again. In fact, someone once measured on a pedometer how many miles they walked serving food and busing tables there  – which I also did – and it was 4 ½ miles of walking. Oh, and the food – a hot nutritious meal every day. We served beef and bean chili with brown rice, vegies, fruit, dessert, and a roll with juice and water.

I was humbled by the opportunity to serve the homeless. People were getting two, three, and more trays of food and putting what they didn’t eat into plastic bags for later. For most, it was their only meal that day. Some were using canes to walk; others had walkers, and several in wheelchairs. One man that I served and talked with was a Marine veteran who lost his leg in service to his country. There were lots of dogs with the homeless. Dogs are important when you live on the streets – they provide safety for single women and are a source of unconditional love. Homeless need that especially.

The Tenderloin, where St. Anthony’s is located, is a tough area. Over 20,000 people live there, where the average rent is $600-800 a week for a small room with a bathroom down the hallway. The population includes those living with mental illness, addiction, and disabilities, as well as seniors, immigrants, vets, the working poor, and families. There are over 190 liquor licenses in the Tenderloin and no grocery stores. Talk about food deserts.

Connection is vital for St. Anthony’s. They connect those most in need to a community of volunteers that make the good work of St. Anthony’s possible.  The hope of our Faith in Action group is that we too can create this connection of volunteers to our community in the Oakland Diocese and create a powerful opportunity to reconnect to a sense of community. We have a responsibility to help connect our community to people who are homeless, have no support system, are disabled, are seniors, are struggling with mental illness, or are new in town. We too must do this with dignity, respect, and lots of love. Together, we can truly make an impact on lives.