Franciscan Center marks 42 years with new direction

Tough economy means more clients who need help

  • Edward NcNally, executive director of the Franciscan Center, is pictured in the pantry of the Baltimore center, where hundreds of bags of canned food and grocery are given out to those in need.
Edward NcNally, executive director of the Franciscan Center,… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
September 12, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

It was 42 years ago this week that the Franciscan Center opened its doors to anyone who needed a coat, a lunch or a sympathetic ear. The door at 101 W. 23rd St. remains open to all, although the emergency outreach services offered at this way station of help are being fine-tuned to meet the needs of its clients.

Earlier this year, Edward F. McNally, an attorney and former Roman Catholic priest, became the center's executive director. He is part of the new administration team charged with guiding the center through a difficult economic time when many more clients are seeking emergency help.

"If we keep five people out of an emergency room during the flu season, I feel we've accomplished something," he said one day last week.

On a typical day, when the center opens its doors, there is a line of people waiting to get in. By lunchtime, about 400 people will have had a meal. At the end of the month, as those on a fixed income run low on funds, that number will hit 600.

"We operate as a community effort. We get donations and help — time, talent and treasure — from parishes, high schools, universities, foundations and individuals," said McNally. Local foundations, including the Abell, Knott, Weinberg, Legg Mason, Baltimore Community, Northrop Grumman and Constellation Energy, as well as the Franciscan Sisters Charitable Trust, are also generous to the center.

One recent change at the center is an emphasis on nutritious eating. McNally insists that his clients will be fed in a healthy way. He has networked with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the Knights of Columbus, One Straw Farm in Baltimore County, the Center for a Livable Future, the Hopkins Campus Kitchen, the Maryland Institute College of Art and the Helping Up Mission. Local merchants, such as Wegmans grocery stores, donate on a regular basis.

McNally said he has volunteers who have worked at the center "from three weeks to 30 years." Local chefs will give a day or two a week in the kitchen, which also attracts community service volunteers from area high schools.

"There is no fried food here. It is all steamed, baked or broiled," said Kim Gregory, a cook at the center.

The center is a major distributor of groceries from the federal Emergency Food Assistance program. Its counselors and social workers help people get birth certificates and driver's licenses. They act as a post office for those without a fixed address. They can help with BG&E turn-off notices, evictions, transportation, and prescription drug and dental assistance.

"We are open to anyone in the city," said Heather Newman, an associate director at the center. "All our clients know they will be treated with dignity and respect. We try to care for the whole person, their mental and physical health."

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