By Jay Nies
Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri (CCCNM) is going places, having placed its new Mobile Resource Bus (MRB) into service.
Dubbing it the “Chariot of Charity,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight blessed the recently donated and outfitted vehicle at a June 6 ceremony outside the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center in Jefferson City.
“This bus will bring the Kingdom of God to those who are in need,” said Bishop McKnight. “With this bus, we will be able to put into action the faith and devotion of so many good hearts and supporters of Catholic Charities.”
Attending the blessing ceremony were Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos and several priests, diocesan Chancery employees, CCCNM board and staff members and donors, and representatives of SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospitals in Jefferson City and Audrain County.
CCCNM Executive Director Dan Lester said the MRB will be “an office on wheels, allowing Catholic Charities to take our services directly to those in need.”
Catholic Charities’ community-services employees will staff the MRB, allowing them to meet directly with people seeking assistance with a variety of basic needs — from housing to energy assistance to food.
“We’ll be collaborating with our Catholic parishes, hospitals, clinics and other faith-based and secular social-service providers in a variety of locations throughout the 38 counties of the Diocese of Jefferson City,” said Mr. Lester.
He noted that people in rural areas who are seeking social services often have to travel great distances to get what they need, “taxing their already limited resources.”
The vehicle will also be used in the aftermath of natural disasters to transport supplies and provide a safe meeting place for Catholic Charities disaster-response staff and survivors who have been displaced, he said.
Heart and soul
Bishop McKnight said it’s providential that the blessing would take place a few days before the Church’s “twin feasts” of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“As patroness of the Diocese of Jefferson City, the Immaculate Heart of Mary magnifies the centrality of heart, of charity and devotion in the life and mission of the Church,” said Bishop McKnight.
Invoking the Scripture reading from the Letter of St. James (1:22-27), he said discipleship requires people to be not just hearers but doers of God’s word.
“Mary’s Son showed us the way to salvation,” the bishop noted, “by making sacrifice for the good of others.”
He said Catholics are concerned not only for the poor who are easy to see “but also those who suffer and are in need out on the peripheries.”
“Pope Francis has been insistent with us about being a Church that reaches out to the margins,” he said. “We are not to wait for people to come to us to encounter the love of God. We are called to bring God’s very heart out into the world.”
He said the mobile services bus and the concrete works of charity that take place inside it will help people “come to know the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
He then prayed a blessing and splashed holy water onto the vehicle, inside and out.
With ample storage space and a comfortable meeting area, the new vehicle will be deployed to locations where social services can be hard to access and traditional means of support may be hours away.
Food, clothing, and personal hygiene products can be transported efficiently, and the functional desk and office space allow CCCNM staff to meet face-to-face with clients seeking assistance with housing, energy, and other basic needs.
The bus is equipped with a mobile “hotspot” Internet connection, along with a laptop computer, scanner and printer.
“We can process a lot of the paperwork that we require for assistance right here with folks,” said Mr. Lester.
CCCNM personnel can log onto the websites of utility companies and enter pledges to help clients pay their bills and avoid disconnection.
Mr. Lester hopes to have solar panels installed on the roof, providing additional capacity in emergency situations.
The MRB will also be used in tandem with other agencies mobile support resources, including the Food Banks Mobile Pantry, that make several stops throughout the CCCNM service area.
CCCNM staff took the MRB to the Little Explorers Discovery Center in Jefferson City on a recent Saturday morning to distribute care packages to people in need.
In less than two hours, they gave away 150 of the packages, containing items such as soap and toothpaste.
Mr. Lester said most people can get food assistance if they need it, but personal-care items can be hard to come by.
“Just being able to provide these things to people in need, it really goes a long way and helps them to balance that budget a little bit better at the end of the month,” he said.
Mr. Lester noted that Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos, who established CCCNM in 2011, has a great love for the poor, especially in deeply rural areas, and kept challenging the Catholic Charities staff to extend their efforts beyond the Jefferson City and Columbia areas.
The needs are staggering, according to a recent United Way report on calls to its 211 help hotline.
“Just in the 38 counties of this diocese, they handled roughly 200,000 calls for service, for everything from energy assistance to rent to other basic needs,” said Mr. Lester. “That gives you some idea of the level of need we’re looking at in our communities.”
Collaboration is key. Especially in rural areas, Catholic Charities works with local faith-based and public aid agencies to get people the help they need.
“A lot of churches — Catholic churches or other churches in our smaller communities —already operate food pantries and clothes closets,” he said. “So we’ll be asking, ‘Could we come on the day you’re open and also work with folks on some of their other needs that they might have?’
“We really want to become a force multiplier and help extend everybody’s resources a little bit,” he stated.
He said the Christian mandate is clear: “Clothe the naked, feed the hungry, bring drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and the imprisoned.
“That was the mandate that was given to us, so that is the mandate we continue to follow 2,000 years later,” he said.
Representatives from SSM Health, which operates the St. Mary’s Hospitals in Jefferson City and Mexico, attended the bus blessing and made a presentation.
They included: Philip Gustafson, president of SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital; Joshua Allee, mission, ethics and pastoral care director; Amelia Boyd, vice president of strategy and marketing; and Beverly Stafford, director of the St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation.
Mr. Gustafson made a financial contribution to CCCNM on behalf of SSM Health, and Mr. Allee presented a trove of toiletries and personal items that had been donated by hospital employees.
“We join our gifts and prayers that God has given us to use in your mission as we both reveal God’s healing presence,” said Mr. Allee.
“It’s nice to see the human touch and God’s touch in what’s being done here,” said Mr. Gustafson.
Catholic Charities is in the process of hiring another case manager to help handle individual requests for service.
Alissa Marlow, who’s been a CCCNM case manager since last summer, tried to field about 120 calls for assistance the last week of June.
“We’re getting more calls than we can handle with the current staffing we have,” said Mr. Lester. “So we’re looking to bring somebody on board to help us with the workload.”
Mrs. Marlow, who helped make the MRB into a reality, will take on more of an oversight role, helping to plan and execute the agency’s work in surrounding communities.
She’ll be in contact with other agencies and organizations such as food pantries and health clinics to determine the best days to bring the MRB to a community.
She said that since joining the Catholic Charities staff, she’s been surprised to find how many “working poor” people there are — some holding down two or more jobs.
“It’s disheartening to see people who are trying so hard to make it but just can’t do it with the hourly wages they’re making,” she said. “They have no benefits and no time off, and they’re one illness or one incident away from losing what they have.”
At the same time, “it’s good to know how much we can help them in those situations,” she said. “We can make a real difference in their lives.”
“It provides all of us with the opportunity to become saints,” Mr. Lester added. “Isn’t that what we’re called to be? By being able to see the face of the poor and interact with them directly — what a gift that is!
“And we receive that gift on a daily basis.”