PHILADELPHIA — St. Francis Inn, the Province’s vibrant ministry in the Kensington section of the city, is constantly enhancing its services. It is not only the community that benefits but also its volunteers.
A recent issue of The Pilgrim newsletter said that as the needs of guests have grown, so too, have the talents and gifts of the inn’s volunteers, many of whom are from the Province’s Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM).
“From the crowded, chaotic kitchen during the drama of mealtime crunch to the busy market atmosphere of St. Benedict’s Thrift Shop to the intense and intricate casework at the Women’s and Urban centers, the Inn is a real cross section of life,” according to The Pilgrim.
From its humble beginnings as a meal program, St. Francis Inn today is a one-stop shop, filling many important needs. Of special note is St. Benedict’s Thrift Store. Selling more than just clothing and household items, St. Benedict’s feels like a market in a large city. “With a majority of the goods given out by free vouchers, the place is always hopping,” according to the May 2008 newsletter.
St. Benedict’s gives those in need the experience of actually shopping for themselves. It is not uncommon for shoppers to strike up conversation with Inn volunteers. “No major trauma, no big drama, just two people connecting,” said The Pilgrim. “An opportunity to let someone know that they matter and that God cares.”
Meeting Women’s Needs
The Thea Bowman Women’s Center is also making a difference. With renovations nearing completion, the rooms at the center are now fresh and cheerful. The Women’s Center was founded to create a new and safe environment for those entering, said The Pilgrim. After years of use, it was time to give the center a facelift.
As with all Inn projects, the volunteer elbow-grease made a difference in the renovation. And, said Fred Dilger, OFM, who produced this issue of the newsletter, “As with many inn stories, there were laughs and mishaps.”
Helping Families Get on Their Feet
The Urban Center’s 10 rooms comprise a welcoming place for all kinds of people who stop by seeking help. Recently, the multi-purpose room hosted representatives from local agencies who assist homeless families and help children prepare for transitional housing.
The rooms are also used to interview people who come to the inn needing assistance. Many of the center’s guests are families in the midst of domestic violence or living without a home.
John Gill, OFM, the director, works closely with these guests. Recently, after working with a mother and her teenaged son for several months, he was able to help them move into their own apartment. The center, which John established two years ago, aided them financially, offering the security deposit and first- and last-month’s rent.
This is just one of the success stories that St. Francis Inn has made possible in a city where the homeless population is increasing.
Value to Volunteers
Many of the people who serve the community at St. Francis Inn are college students who donate several days of their time. A recent volunteer, Christine Radvanski of Somerset, N.J., a student at Nazareth College, Rochester, N.Y., was quoted in her parish newsletter about her experiences.
In the June issue of St. Matthias in Action Radvanski said that her favorite part of the trip was “getting to speak sign language with one of the deaf guests.” She also appreciated her new understanding of the plight of the poor.
“As one of the many people of my class who grew up with a fear and embarrassment regarding the homeless, I could now call many of the guests of the St. Francis Inn my friends,” she said.
“It was a great experience, and I was changed as a result,” Radvanski said. As The Pilgrim says, their rooms ring out with laughter and tears.
The current August–September issue of The Pilgrim shows on its cover photos of the annual block party. It also features details about a trip that the Province’s FVMs took to an amusement park in Jackson, N.J. They accompanied 11 families, a total of 46 people, who regularly eat at St. Francis Inn.
In each issue, The Pilgrim lists items needed most from donors. The current issue requests the following: laundry detergent, baby supplies (formula, pampers, wipes), coffee and tea bags, personal items such as deodorant and feminine products, and prayers.
As The Pilgrim said, the décor and St. Francis Inn and its ministries may change and the needs may shift, but “the foundation will always remain love of neighbor.”
— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.