Mychal’s Message Raises Awareness for Homelessness

HNP Communications In the Headlines

LANCASTER, Pa. — Michael Duffy, OFM, of St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, spoke to teenagers about homelessness at the recent Seventh Annual Home Sweet Home sponsored by Mychal’s Message.

The April 29 to 30 event, which helps raise awareness among teens about the homeless in the United States, was held in conjunction with St. Leo the Great Parish’s youth ministry and in the school parking lot.

“I told stories about the clients that visit the Inn,” said Michael, who has been based at the soup kitchen since 1987. “When you tell stories, the kids are usually attentive.” He said he discussed how easily homelessness can happen, trying to dispel myths about homeless people.

“I tried to impress upon them that at any given moment, we are all very close to coming to a soup kitchen. I tried to change their perception. Most kids have so much today, and most Americans think that it’s a person’s own fault if they’re homeless,” he said. He added that — contrary to stereotypes — most homeless people are not single, male and alcoholic. “We have families and senior citizens coming to our soup kitchen, too.”

Mock Homeless Village
Students sleep in cardboard boxes to better understand how the homeless live, according to KellyAnn Lynch, co-founder of Mychal’s Message. Students donate $25 and raise money from other sources to benefit organizations that serve the homeless and the poor in Pennsylvania and New York City.

“Sixty-five students participated and we raised more than $2,000,” said Lynch. “We were blessed to be able to share the event with Fr. Michael Duffy and Br. David Schlatter this year.” Lynch said that the mock homeless village that the students erect of the boxes is called Mychal’s Village, named for the late Mychal Judge, OFM, the friar who inspired the founding of the organization.

David Schlatter, OFM, of Holy Name College, Silver Spring, Md., who created the Bells of Remembrance Project to honor the memory of all those who died on 9/11, led the tolling of the bell four times throughout the night.

“Father Mychal was a dear family friend, and we are truly honored to continue his work in this way,” said Sharon Hickey, Lynch’s mother and co-founder of Mychal’s Message. “Each year, we look forward to Home Sweet Home as an opportunity to introduce a new group of teens to Father Mychal’s memory and inspire them to say ‘Yes’ and follow in his footsteps helping the poor and homeless.” 

Makeshift Breadline
The students were served a soup kitchen-type dinner before crawling into their cardboard boxes for the night. On Saturday morning, they walked to a makeshift breadline set up in the gym to see firsthand how the homeless struggle to find food. 

homeless1Mychal’s Message began in January 2002 when Lynch’s then 11-year-old daughter Shannon marked the anniversary of her life-saving liver transplant. Every year, Shannon had celebrated her anniversary with a party, presents and cake. That year, in lieu of gifts, she asked for socks for the homeless, in the same spirit that Mychal reached out to those in need. 

Since its inception, Mychal’s Message has collected and distributed more than 250,000 new items to the homeless and poor, including more than 40,000 new pairs of underwear, undershirts and socks. The group distributes items at holidays at St. Francis Breadline on West 31st Street in New York City.

On May 19, Shannon is being honored by The Christophers, an organization that encourages people of all ages and walks of life to “use their God-given talents to make a positive difference in the world.” The group’s motto is: “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Shannon will receive the 2011 James Keller Award at the 62nd annual Christopher Awards ceremony. FDNY chaplain Christopher Keenan, OFM, will accompany Shannon, her mother and grandmother to the event.

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.