LEXINGTON — About a year ago, Corpus Christi parishioner Mary Streetman was recruited by a friend to help at the Beth and Lou Holtz Homeless Shelter in Columbia. With slight hesitation, and not fully aware of what the work entailed, she agreed to help.
After that first visit Streetman became a regular volunteer, and now the shelter has grown to depend on her and her husband, Hosea, to help every Tuesday.
Mary usually supervises in the kitchen, and Hosea checks in clients and directs new volunteers.
When shelter coordinator Mike Lee was looking for churches to sponsor the shelter for one week through March, Streetman immediately thought of her parish.
“I contacted Father Bob Sayer and asked him if he thought we could do this community outreach,” she said.
She told her pastor that they would need seven or eight volunteers from Sunday through Saturday and would be required to provide one hot meal and one breakfast for approximately 200 clients.
Father Sayer gave the green light, and the sign-up sheets were quickly filled. Streetman said the response was overwhelming.
Each night, the church had 20-30 volunteers at the shelter. The extra staff were able to mingle with the guests and give them some much-needed individual attention.
On Monday, the seniors’ group provided a pasta dinner with salad and dessert. A parishioner donated muffins for one of the breakfasts. Sometimes the clients only get a cup of coffee in the morning, so homemade pastries were definitely a treat.
On Tuesday, the people in the shelter each received three new pairs of socks, donated by church members.
The Corpus Christi Catholic Women’s Group took over on Wednesday. They made and served a hot ziti dish with salad and dessert. Enough was left over for the shelter to use the following week.
“I thought it was an awesome experience,” said Nancy Cappanola. She was inspired by the fact that many of the people were in desperate situations but could still smile and laugh.
“All they wanted was for someone to smile at them,” she said.
Cappanola plans to help when the shelter opens again in the fall. “It is a much-needed facility, and it is sad that it is not open year-round,” she said.
The Corpus Christi Youth Group made a chicken and noodle dinner with dessert on Thursday, which meant that the shelter provided three hot meals in one week, instead of one.
On the other days, clients are served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Andrew Stesienko was one of the youth who went to help. He described the experience as “enlightening” for him because he had never seen such destitute people.
“It made me grateful to have been born into my family situation,” Stesienko said.
The church also collected several large bins of toiletries for the clients.
Many people use the showers at the facility, and the soaps, shampoos and shaving items were appreciated, as were the toothpaste and toothbrushes.
Other groups got involved, too. The church choirs provided candy and distributed new underwear.
The children’s liturgy committee made desserts that were brought up during Mass the previous Sunday and used throughout the week as snacks at the shelter. On Wednesday, volunteers set out placemats made by the children in faith formation.
Streetman said the clients “picked up the placemats, kissed and hugged them.”
The children had written messages such as “God loves you,” “I am sorry you are poor,” and “Trust God” on the highly decorated placemats.
She said she was touched by the clients’ appreciation for the children’s artwork.
“They asked if they could keep them and carry them around in their bags of treasures,” Streetman said.
The week brought Streetman even closer to the homeless clients, and her concern grew for what would happen to them when the shelter closed March 20.
They asked her and the church to pray for them so that they will be safe.
The week was also memorable for the homeless, who continued to thank Streetman and the other Corpus Christi volunteers who reached out in such a loving way.
“When I was leaving, the clients were hugging and thanking me with tears in their eyes,” Streetman said.
Lee was impressed by the organization of the volunteer effort.
The shelter coordinator completely depends on volunteers and thought Corpus Christi did a fantastic job.
He said they are working on making Beth and Lou Holtz Homeless Shelter a 12-month emergency shelter.
After seeing the enthusiasm from this church, he would not be surprised to see some people from Corpus Christi as part of the volunteer team.