On the outside, it looks like an ordinary red brick house. But the work inside is nothing short of extraordinary at St. Francis House – the northern Virginia community outreach center of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, where John O’Connor, OFM, has been pastor since 2017. The work of this community lifeline was acknowledged in a significant way this week when Francis House was awarded a $300,000 grant from Prince William County in partnership with the Human Services Alliance of Greater Prince William.
“Receiving this grant is recognition of the incredible work at Francis House and our dedicated outreach staff and supportive parishioners who respond to the needs of the poor and disadvantaged in the greater northern Virginia community,” said John, who has been stationed at St. Francis of Assisi since 2014, and who established Francis House in nearby Dumfries when he was pastor at the parish in 1992. “This funding will be very helpful in providing financial assistance to families that have been hit hard by the COVID pandemic. In a way, this grant also recognizes our Franciscan values and the Franciscan response of reaching out to the poor, desperate and forgotten.”
The $300,000 grant will be used to pay gas, electric, water and other utility bills of families and individuals facing shut-off notices. During the pandemic, Francis House has been able to help 15 to 20 families a month with their utility payments – although twice that number show up weekly for emergency assistance, according to Sam Blakeney, business manager at St. Francis Parish, who said the grant would enable Francis House to provide utility assistance to more than triple the number of families per month for the next two years. “We are all proud and excited to have the opportunity [as a result of this grant] to help more of our brothers and sisters in need,” Mr. Blakeney said.
Recently named among the top-10 outreach programs of northern Virginia, Francis House was among 33 nonprofit organizations that received grants ranging from $10,000 to $300,000 to address COVID-19 recovery efforts. Francis House has been long-regarded by the community and local government agencies for its vital outreach services – ranging from the distribution of grocery staples, to emergency utility, rent, prescription drug and transportation assistance, to summer youth, preschool and adult ESL programs – for thousands of people annually who live in neighborhoods of Dumfries, Triangle and Quantico where poverty is extreme and food insecurity is high. Francis House also provides boxed and packaged meals to local homeless shelters.
At the request of the Diocese of Arlington, John serves on a committee with other area Church leaders established by the Virginia Catholic Conference to help improve communications of the Arlington and Richmond dioceses with the state legislature. “Francis House has been cited as an example of a positive and successful program of what the Catholic Church is doing for the community, especially the response to the needs resulting from the pandemic,” said John.