A place that cares Charity: An open house yesterday celebrated the new home of Paul's Place in Pigtown. The agency provides services for the working-class poor.

November 04, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

For an hour one day recently, Paul's Place in Pigtown was buzzing.

Across the street from the nonprofit agency's new building, Dorothy McCauley was evicted, her possessions dumped outside.

A car from another world, Glencoe, pulled up bearing 100 sandwiches. Twenty adults and children materialized and lined up for food.

A workman put up a fancy new sign for Paul's Place Outreach Center Inc. showing praying hands, a cross and a star of David. Neighbors opened windows and peered at the dramas unfolding on the stage of the 1100 block of Ward St.

The 14-year-old agency again was helping as needed, having moved to the renovated two-story rowhouse from a nearby location. Yesterday, it celebrated its move into a new home with an open house, attended by 200 people.

Paul's Place has made an indelible mark caring for the working-class poor in Southwest Baltimore, where pigs were once herded from stockyards to slaughterhouses. It is an area not unfamiliar to drug addicts and the homeless, as well as working homeowners whose families go back four and five generations in the same house.

In Pigtown, with a population that is 70 percent white, the 1990 census reported that single women head 45 percent of families with children and that at least 40 percent of males older than 16 are unemployed.

Each weekday, for free, Paul's organizes play for 30 children at Kid's Place, provides emergency nursing and legal help for 15, distributes used clothing to 15 and serves lunches to 150. That hospitality amounts to tens of thousands of meals a year. The food is donated.

The center advises single mothers in support groups of up to 12. Its Open Gates, a separate nearby medical clinic staffed by the University of Maryland School of Nursing, sees 45 Pigtowners a week.

"We like Paul's Place because they respect people," said William Stinchcomb, 30, an unemployed Pigtown roofer, who says he doesn't use its services but helps with chores. "More and more people are homeless. Druggies are the big problem. Hope they don't bother the Paul people."

One mother who took several of the free sandwiches, Rosalind Boone, 31, said "it's hard" being a single parent taking care of nine children, 3 to 14. She later received baby items and more food. Her children were signed up for an angel tree Christmas program.

Neighbors will be offered future classes in family planning, budgeting, nutrition, parental skills and raising self-esteem.

The 200 people who visited yesterday at Paul's, 1118 Ward St., may not know they're touring what's known unofficially as the Sugar Ray Leonard Building. Before its most recent use as a dry cleaner, workers say the two-story building was a boxing gym where the Maryland-born fighter learned his early fisticuffs.

Lucy Valentine, mother of five grown children, welcomes Paul's Place to the block where she has lived 38 years and where she occasionally hears gunfire, though "it's not as bad as last year." She has served food and made sandwiches in the food program.

"Paul's Place helps many poor around here, and I'm glad. They once helped me with a gas bill, so my daughters and I have volunteered there a lot."

Emergencies like McCauley's eviction for alleged nonpayment of rent are not uncommon.

Some neighbors carried the woman's goods into the center for temporary safekeeping. A few helped out at small chores, including trash pickup. In the most intimate tableaux, GeorgeAnn Elchynski, Paul's executive director, and Jeannie Pohlhaus, board president of Paul's, tried to take care of McCauley -- ailing, heartbroken, tired, unsure of where to stay.

As Elchynski talked, she rubbed the crying woman's back. The two women from Paul's offered soothing words.

"Can you stay with your sister a couple nights, Dorothy? We'll get you some coffee. We'll find a place for you. Can you stay with your son? I'm worried about your kids. We'll make sure you'll be all right."

McCauley was later taken to Open Gates and from there to University Hospital for treatment of high blood pressure. Elchynski and Pohlhaus helped arrange for McCauley and two of her three sons, 14 and 17, to stay at relatives' homes.

Such kindnesses are also offered by many volunteers and the only two other staffers besides Elchynski. Cardinal Givens ("My mother worked for Cardinal Gibbons and named me after him") lends his hands wherever needed. Cathy Conley is administrative assistant.

The new home, refurbished by Whiting Turner at a reduced cost, is on one of five connecting lots on Ward Street that the nonprofit bought in a package last year for $80,000. Lots 2 and 3 are vacant. A food services building will be constructed on lots 4 and 5.

The entire project will cost $540,000. Foundations, such as Abell, Middendorf and Weinberg, are contributors. An annual citizen fund-raising drive, Dinner in Spirit, raised $70,000 in 1995.

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