Ministries Dig Out After Blizzard Buries East Coast

Maria Hayes In the Headlines

St. Francis Inn's soup kitchen remained open, despite the blizzard that coated Philadelphia in snow. (Photo courtesy of Jim McIntosh)

St. Francis Inn’s soup kitchen remained open, despite the blizzard that covered Philadelphia in snow. (Photo courtesy of Jim McIntosh)

This weekend, Winter Storm Jonas pounded the East Coast with snow and ice, with a vicious wind that whipped up blizzard conditions in several regions. Snow blanketed the majority of Holy Name Province, with approximately 19 of HNP’s 24 parishes affected by the storm.

The white flakes made it as far north as St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford, Conn., and as far south as St. Mary of the Angels Church in Anderson, S.C. Many parishes were forced to cancel Mass and other activities.

But for the Province’s food ministries, it was business as usual, despite the blizzard.

In Philadelphia, the staff of St. Francis Inn welcomed those who had walked for blocks in the snow in hopes of receiving a hot meal. The Inn began serving meals in 1979 and has not missed a day since, despite storms, fires, power outages and other unforeseen challenges.

“The guests who came to eat were a selection of our normal guests: the poor who have nowhere else to go,” said Jim McIntosh, OFM. “They ranged from the abandoned elderly to drug addicts, from alcoholics to people with mental problems, from people down on their luck to the prostitutes who populate the street corners in Kensington after dark.”

“We saw less elderly and families on Saturday, primarily because it was so difficult to get out and get around,” Jim added. “Our elderly guests and families tend to stay in during bad weather and cope as they best can.”

The storm did delay the arrival of some volunteers to St. Francis Inn. Frank Critch, OFM, of Macon, Ga., was scheduled to bring a group of high school students to the Inn to volunteer for a week. Their trip was pushed back until Tuesday, when the airports reopened and their flight was rescheduled.

In New York City, where an icy wind whipped snow around the base of towering skyscrapers, a group of homeless men and women huddled outside of St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street early on Saturday morning, waiting for St. Francis Breadline to open. Determined volunteers pushed a cart bearing coffee and oatmeal down an un-shoveled sidewalk to distribute the food.

Later on Saturday, a video of volunteers battling the icy winds went viral on Facebook, quickly accumulating more than 24,000 views.

Meanwhile, St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street closed due to the snow. Masses were canceled and all other activities were suspended. The church reopened on Sunday.

Inconveniences, But No Catastrophes
Father uptown, Holy Name of Jesus Parish’s hardy maintenance staff earned a mention in The New York Times. “Jason Garcia, 29, was part of the maintenance crew tasked with the futile job of clearing the rapidly falling snow,” The Times reported. Garcia said, “Every chance you got to get inside, you’d go warm up, then head back out. At least our boss is buying us lunch.”

Holy Name of Jesus Church stands tall during the snowstorm. (Photo courtesy of Larry Ford)

Holy Name of Jesus Church stands tall during the snowstorm. (Photo courtesy of Larry Ford)

In New Jersey, the storm threatened communities on the Jersey Shore with flooding. In some places, water levels rose higher than they were during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which had severely damaged St. Francis of Assisi Church and Community Center on Long Beach Island, N.J.

Fortunately, there was little damage to report after Blizzard Jonas.

“The boulevard in front of St. Francis Church and Center is flooded, but both the church and the center are fine,” reported pastor Jim Scullion, OFM, on the parish Facebook page on Jan. 24. “There was no water or wind damage.” He added,” I know that after Hurricane Sandy our anxiety level is high as we go through another storm with winds and flooding, but we have each other and God is with us to give us strength.”

The parish had canceled weekend Masses and activities. Mass resumed on Monday, and the center’s activities resumed on Tuesday.

Holy Name College's friars shovel

Holy Name College’s student friars helped shovel the snow in their Silver Spring, Md., neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Christian Seno)

Cleanup Continues
In some places, inadequate snow-clearing equipment is preventing schools and other ministries from resuming their daily routines. On Tuesday morning, three days after the storm had ended, many side streets in Wilmington, Del., still had not been plowed, including two that border St. Paul Church.

“The other two streets that border our block were plowed, but all the snow was piled at the curb where our parishioners park,” said Todd Carpenter, OFM, pastor. “As a result, we had to cancel all our weekend Masses because there was no place for people to park and we thought it would be dangerous for those who walk to church to come.”

He noted that the real problem wasn’t the snow, but the cleanup. “The city of Wilmington does not do a great job of plowing, particularly in poor neighborhoods.” Wilmington typically receives 8.1 inches of snow by Jan. 25, according to the National Weather Service. This year’s snowfall total is 16.9 inches so far.

Despite the inconveniences left in the wake of the storm, the friars have remained positive.

“We were prepared,” Todd said. “The friars are all well. We knew we’d be snowed in for the weekend, so we stocked up on some things beforehand. And we are blessed by our parish deacon, who is also our maintenance person. He and a few parishioners shoveled and plowed our property.”

Farther south, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, Va., had also prepared for the storm and provided parishioners with updates through the website, social media and email blasts.

“Our maintenance staff stayed on site, trying to keep on top of the storm,” said Kevin. “Fortunately, there were no power outages.”

Although two feet of snow blanketed the area, the parish didn’t cancel any of its Masses.

“Turnout was a little over 100 for the weekend, though some of that was due to the diehard Patriots and Broncos fans who felt they had to attend Mass for their team, which we all had a good laugh over,” Kevin remarked.

Still, the parish has been forced to cancel parish and school activities throughout this week as cleanup continues. Many other schools in the Washington, D.C., area —including St. Francis International School in Silver Spring, Md. — are still closed as well.

Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.

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