Franciscans get new building for better service to poor Daytime center on 23rd St. will double former space

September 25, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Around the Franciscan Center, they call her Kathy or Kathy from St. Anthony's in Gardenville or Sister or Sister Kathleen. Makes no difference to her.

She's busy pushing chairs, examining ramps for the disabled, approving a contractor's decision, lining up the shoes and checking the cans of tuna. She's doing exactly what St. Francis of Assisi asked of her: "Preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words."

For Sister Kathleen DeLancey, director of the center, preaching means doing, and doing means getting ready for a day her Franciscan sisters have dreamed about for 10 years -- the dedication tomorrow of a $3.4 million Franciscan Center to serve the poor, at 101 W. 23rd St.

Not a sleeping shelter, the daytime center will be marking its 30th anniversary as one of the area's most complete one-stop venues for qualified low-income people in need of free services.

"Too bad we need this building," DeLancey said. "The Bible says the poor will always be with us. We don't want them to be poor, but as long as they are, we need this place."

The center has more than doubled its space by moving around the corner from two rowhouses at 2210 and 2212 Maryland Ave. and the Francis House convent. Its newly renovated quarters, once a school for special education, will offer free daily lunches to 500 people, up from 300 a day over the past year.

Also offered are bags of groceries, clothing, counseling, emergency financial aid and, more recently, help for persons with human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome

The center eliminates one of the city's most visible signs of the poor, long lines of people waiting outside in the cold or heat in the 2200 block of Maryland Ave.

With the expected opening Thursday, they will enter the building from Mace Street off 23rd Street and get help inside.

"It's state of the art, so our clients can have their self-esteem," said James Keith, dining room manager.

But if they'll be out of sight and out of mind of motorists, they're not disappearing.

"Our clients are increasing in some categories," said Sue Bradford, development director.

In the fiscal year that ended in July, she said, used-clothing donations went from 26,000 to 35,000 people in one year.

Other business has remained stable: emergency funds for about 5,500 people to prevent evictions and utility turnoffs; emergency groceries to 12,000 men, women and children and AIDS outreach for 740 people.

A loyal cadre of 22 staff members, 68 volunteers and 4,500 cash and clothing donors supports the agency, often in mysterious ways, although the sisters wished the flow of donations was sometimes less a matter of hope.

"One time, in the dead of winter, we had no sweaters for the clients," said Bradford. "We prayed to keep the people warm. Out of nowhere comes this station wagon full of sweaters."

Another instance occurred last Christmas Eve.

DeLancey said the staff was exhausted from holiday work when the back doorbell and the front doorbell rang at the same time.

At the front was a tired woman named Jana who had walked for miles to ask for food and clothing for her family of nine.

At the back was a man from St. John the Evangelist Church in Severna Park with a car full of toys and clothing.

The woman left with Christmas packages and a renewed faith in God and the generosity of others, while the staff marveled at "the preciseness of God's timing," DeLancey said.

"We're a ragtag bunch of people here," the sister said. "There's no way we can raise $3 million without God working through the generosity of others."

Sister Ellen Carr was capital campaign director.

Some large "angels" are the General Assembly, donor of $800,000; Harry and Jeannette Foundation, $750,000; and the Abell Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and Mary Catherine Bunting, donors of $200,000 to $250,000. The $3.4 million includes a $500,000 endowment for future needs.

More than 500 visitors are expected for the dedication, which will run noon to 3 p.m.

Part of 23rd and Mace streets will be blocked off for the event, which will include speeches, hot dogs, soda and popcorn.

Volunteers will lead tours of the three-story center.

Pub Date: 9/25/98

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