Holy Cross Shelter Celebrates 25 Years

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

BRONX, N.Y. — Holy Cross Church here commemorated the 25th anniversary of its Men’s Homeless Shelter with a prayer service and dessert reception on March 30.  Both staff and guests of the shelter attended as did friars from Holy Cross and East Rutherford, N.J.

Approximately 25 people participated in the event in the church basement on the last night of the shelter’s three-month season.

Each winter since its founding in 1982, the shelter on Soundview Avenue has served homeless men who are driven by bus from drop-in centers. Each weeknight from January through March, 15 to 20 men sleep at the shelter along with two overnight volunteers.  They are provided with dinner and breakfast and are given access to a shower, a bed with fresh linens, and television.

The anniversary program followed the scheduled dinner prepared for the guests by Holy Cross parishioners who enthusiastically volunteer their time to this program that pastor Todd Carpenter calls “a blessing to the community.”

A festive atmosphere filled the bright rooms as guests and volunteers greeted one another by name, many with hugs.  The familiarity of coming to the shelter every night makes the place feel like home to the guests according to Noel Gonzalez, one of the founders of the shelter who, along with Joan Rocco, has remained on the volunteer staff for 25 years.

Before the guests arrived – slightly later than the planned 7:30 p.m. opening due to Friday traffic congestion – volunteers shared stories about the shelter’s history.

Noel described the clearly-defined roles of the volunteers and the regimented schedule that the team follows.  Each week,17 volunteers manage the shelter— five cooks, 10 sleepover volunteers and two coordinators.

“Everyone knows their job,” Noel said.  “We are very organized. We’re glad that Joan never lets anything go wrong on her watch.”

He proudly described the 2004 installation of the shower, acknowledging the volunteer maintenance team of Roberto Velez, Freddie Rivera and Miguel Viruet.

“They keep the lighting, heating and plumbing systems in great working order,” Todd said.

Inetha Freeman, one of the original staff members, said she volunteers at the shelter because she enjoys helping people.

As is done each evening, a pre-dinner prayer was said on the anniversary by one of the shelter’s guests.

At the dessert reception, Todd , in addition to offering the traditional intentions, said, “Thanks to all the people who help here.” (shown in photo with volunteer Carlos Cruz) He then led the group in a prayer called ”Litany for Our Homeless Brothers and Sisters.”  It included the following petitions:

We pray for communities and people that serve the homeless and refugee.  We give thanks to God for their ministry.
R May we support their ministry in deed and prayer.
We pray for those of us with warm houses and comfortable beds.
R That we not be lulled into complacency and forgetfulness.
We pray for all the men who have made their home here at Holy Cross over the past 25 years.
R.  May you continue to bless and protect them and remind them of your constant love and presence.
We pray for the many dedicated parishioners of Holy Cross who have volunteered at the shelter as coordinators, cooks, and overnight guests and for all those who have served in our shelter in any way.
R.  That you continue to bless and inspire them and that they continue to be examples of Christian service for their brothers and sisters.

One tearful shelter guest expressed gratitude to the parish’s friars and volunteers for all they do for the homeless men.  He began by saying, “I’m not a speaker but I want to thank Todd and all the people here for what they do.”

Among the attendees at the anniversary program were Thaddeus Sapio, moderator of  the shelter since 1995,Octavio Duran, Jeremiah McGinley and Ronald Pecci.

The shelter was founded in January 1982 by Joseph Hertel, then pastor of Holy Cross.

An article about the Holy Cross Men’s Shelter is planned for the June issue of The Anthonian magazine, the quarterly publication of St. Anthony’s Guild.

 Jocelyn is Holy Name Province’s Director of Communications.