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Volunteers, donations, and prayers are restoring hope in Flint

Center for Hope is grateful for Catholic Response

Vicky Schultz, President/CEO of Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee Counties:

“A dream” is how Vicky Schultz, the CEO of Catholic Charities, sums up Faith in Flint (FIF). “We would’ve never imagined the response this has generated. Before the Faith in Flint magazine last June, no one knew us. This was truly a Godsend and opened the floodgates.

“We began to get calls from churches, youth groups, and women’s guilds about fundraisers and donations. These were our first initial connections with churches outside of our county. When the issue was released, Bishop Boyea also sent a letter with a remittance envelope to every registered Catholic household in the diocese. Because of that, we’ve received thousands of dollars. Between monetary and tangible goods, almost every parish in our diocese has responded in some way.

“The monetary donations from the Faith in Flint campaign have all been designated for renovating the 67,000 square feet of the Center for Hope, which has begun. Completion is expected in the summer of 2017. Once it’s finished, we’ll be a one-stop center with the addition of technical training, outreach workers, medical facilities, a transportation program, laundry facilities, showers and a water filling station. Our Warming Center, open from December through March, will continue to provide a safe place from the elements with three meals a day. The Warming Center typically serves 40-60 clients a night. Next door, at Catholic Charities, the 25 therapists will continue to be available for counseling.

“While the majority of our volunteers continue to be local, we’ve enjoyed an increase of help from outside our county. Our average was 17,000 per year and, with FIF, we are at around 18,000 volunteers. Last summer, we had a steady stream of moms from Holt, Okemos and Charlotte, with cars filled with kids and donations. We had them make soap, sort things and work in the kitchen. Our situation’s unique because people can see where their help is going. Additionally, we’ve seen an increase in provided services simply because word’s gotten out about what we provide. We’ve easily picked up another 50 families a month who utilize our services.

“This water crisis has impacted everything we do and pushed everyone to the limits. From the day it was announced, water began coming in, for which we are very grateful. But that also meant our small staff and volunteers spent hours unloading. Thankfully, most of those who brought water helped. And then there’s dispensing it. On the highest demand day, we gave out 4,000 cases. Absolutely everything’s had to slide to meet this need. Before this crisis, I didn’t think anything could be more basic than food, clothing and shelter and, by gosh, there’s one thing more basic, and that’s water.

“Every meeting that I run begins with prayer. We have prayer boxes in all our buildings and we even hand them out with water. We never dispose of any prayer requests. I take them to staff and board meetings, handing one to each member. We begin with each person reading the prayer intention they hold; most of them take them home to continue to pray for that person. It’s very powerful because reading them grounds us and reminds us why we are here. Every single story keeps us going. At our monthly Mass open to all, (including clients, most of whom are non-Catholic, and attend with the promise of a bus ticket at the end), we bring the basket of prayers up to the altar and literally pray for the needs of our clients. For clients present, the staff embraces them, holds their hands and blesses them.

“People come to aid us because they have faith. I think most people are searching for a way to connect their faith with real life. The original Faith in Flint issue planted the seed and included a challenge from the bishop. This is just amazing because our diocese is a 10-county area; now it feels like they are all part of us. God can make things happen.”

Mary Stevenson, campaign director for the Center for Hope:

“People became curious about our operations, so we held an open house last November. People learned about our Community Closet, Warming Center, Food Pantry, etc. We provide the better part of 100,000 points of service for physical needs each year. Because people could see what we do, it’s enabled us to connect to more areas of service, like the Backpack Program. We’d been able to identify with released prisoners who filter through here, but didn’t have the staff to enact any programs for them. Now we have parishioners from St. Mary Magdalen in Brighton who’ve made this a reality. In fact, the Michigan Department of Corrections is hoping to make this a statewide program.

“We have also seen a boon to our Hope in a Box program (where personal needs items are donated in a box). A wonderful couple from Holy Spirit in Brighton has been dropping off items every weekend since last June. Neither of these would have happened without FIF, and they make a tremendous difference.”

Pictured below: 

1st - Faith in Flint backpack, proudly worn by a visitor to the Center for Hope Soup Kitchen

2nd - Catholic Charities has been one of the primary distribution centers throughout Flint's water crisis

3rd - Guests are served meals each day at the Center for Hope