Holy Family Church in Auburn feeds, clothes the poor - Catholic Courier

Holy Family Church in Auburn feeds, clothes the poor

Each Tuesday morning, the former Holy Family School building in Auburn is one-stop shopping for anyone in need of food or clothing.

Each week, dozens of people line up outside the school, sometimes as early as 8:30 a.m., as they wait to browse through the items in Holy Family Parish’s Clothes Closet and receive bagged, healthy lunches through the parish’s Lunches With Love program.

“We’re doing corporal works of mercy in the building,” parishioner Barbara Quinn said, noting that Holy Family School closed in 1957 but since then has been used by the parish. “It might have been a vacant building, but instead it’s a hub.”

The gymnasium of the former school is home to Holy Family’s CYO basketball teams, and many of the building’s classrooms house the parish’s faith-formation classes. One classroom is dedicated to the Clothes Closet, according to Liza Kelly, who along with Quinn coordinates the clothing ministry.

“The Clothes Closet is a room full of used clothing in good condition, things that can be worn again,” Kelly explained. “It is available for anybody that needs anything, free of charge.”

The Clothes Closet is stocked with donated items left in a drop-off shed in front of the school building by Holy Family parishioners and other Auburn-area residents. Twice a week volunteers bring the bags of donated clothing, shoes, blankets, sheets and towels into the Clothes Closet for sorting.

“We look through all of the bags. Things that aren’t ripped, stained or full of pet hair — the ones that can be worn again — we put them on the racks in the room,” Kelly said.

Volunteers arrive at the Clothes Closet to begin their sorting around 9 a.m. each Tuesday, and the closet opens up an hour later. Although the closet is open for just two hours each week — from 10 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays and from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursdays — it nonetheless serves between 40 and 100 people each week, Quinn said.

“We see a wide range of people,” Kelly added. “We see the poor that really don’t have anything that come, and we see others that maybe have jobs but are just looking to see what they can get. You can be working and still need things, need help.”

During the summer, many families come to the Clothes Closet to find things for their children to wear to school in the fall, Quinn remarked. All of the closet’s items are free, and volunteers don’t ask those “shopping” to provide any proof of residency or income, Kelly said.

“It’s really for anybody,” she said, noting that everyone who comes into the closet is treated with dignity and respect.

“It’s not just (about) giving out clothes, but it’s about coming into contact with other people and showing them love,” she added.

Just down the hall from the Clothes Closet, the Lunches With Love ministry operates on a similar premise, according to Bobbie Kukiela, who coordinates the program with her husband, Mike, and fellow parishioner Don Cleaver.

“When people come in everyone is very gracious to them, and that’s very important. We may be the only smile that person sees all day long,” Kukiela said.

Lunches With Love also is open from 10 to 11 a.m. each Tuesday, and patrons frequently visit the Clothes Closet before coming to the gymnasium to receive a bagged lunch. The lunches include an oven-roasted turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread, fresh fruit, carrots and fruit juice, meeting the Cayuga County Health Department’s standards for a healthy meal, Kukiela said. Volunteers arrive at the school building each Tuesday at 9 a.m. to start making the sandwiches and putting the lunches together.

The volunteers usually distribute between 100 and 110 lunches each Tuesday, although during the summer it’s not unusual to give out nearly 150 lunches in a single morning, Kukiela said. In 2016, volunteers distributed a total of 5,148 lunches. It costs about $5,600 to run the ministry each year, and the bulk of the ministry’s funding is donated by Holy Family parishioners, she said.

Each year Kukiela and several other volunteers speak to their fellow parishioners after Holy Family’s Masses on Thanksgiving weekend to tell them how many lunches were distributed and how much those lunches cost.

“It’s their ministry. They’re only empowering us to be able to distribute it, but it’s their ministry,” Kukiela explained.

Holy Family’s parishioners have been very supportive, not only of Lunches With Love and the Clothes Closet, but with a number of other service initiatives in the Auburn community, volunteers say. For many parishioners such service is part of the foundation of their faith, Quinn said.

“It really shows that we are Catholics, ‚Ķ and it’s one of the pillars of our relationship with God,” she added.

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