Faces of hope

The faces of Franciscan Charities are the faces of hope.

Many who come to our door – guests, donors, volunteers – don’t always start out that way. Some are hungry for food, others in need of protection or healing.

We got our start in 2004 in response to a call for help. A handful of Newark’s most needy had gathered in the basement of St. Ann’s, a nearly-abandoned church in the Central Ward. They were poor and hungry.

A few volunteers came with hot soup and sincere intentions. What we found was a need so great we couldn’t turn away. That first day we served 12 folks. We had little access to running water, no kitchen to speak of, frequent power outages, and many doubts. Gang members stood opposite our entrance. The police told us to go home, but we stayed. And soon 12 became 20, and 20 became 200. In time, a kitchen was built, a church was reopened, the gangs moved on, and a small piece of community was reclaimed.

Today we face new challenges. The coronavirus pushed us out of our kitchen into the parking lot, where we continue to distribute hot meals, snack and food bags, diapers and hygiene products. We’ve been relying on families who cook in their kitchens, restaurants who donate meals, and volunteers who assemble, package and distribute whatever we can gather from the Community Food Bank and other generous donors.

And still the need grows. Before we even opened up one recent Saturday, more than 170 people had lined up, properly socially distanced, outside our doors – down the block and around corners.

New faces, new families, many who’ve never asked for food or help before. They came because they heard we were feeding our neighbors.

Through it all, we find hope.

❤️ There’s our founder Paul Miller, OFS, who started Franciscan Charities in 2004 with the belief that each person should have a warm, welcoming place to eat and be treated with dignity and kindness.

From day one Brother Paul set the tone. If you come though our door, hungry in anyway, we will feed you. We will help you. We will hug you. No questions asked. (Read more about Brother Paul at brpaul.com.)

That’s hope.

❤️ There’s Ronney Jacob, who first walked through our doors – like so many – in need of a meal and some support. He kept coming back, eventually helping out as a volunteer and working on some projects. Now he’s our chef.

When the time came as the pandemic set in to sort out who to furlough, who to pay, who should stay on and who should stay home, Ronney would hear none of it. “I want to come to work,” he said. And show up he has – like so many of our staff and volunteers – every day that we’re serving meals to go.

That’s hope.

❤️ There are the families who are the backbone of our volunteer corps. We couldn’t do what we do without them.

It starts with a parent bringing a child or two to help prepare and serve meals, read to younger children in our literacy center, work our coat drive or hand out gifts at our holiday toy drive. It grows from there – parents bring neighbors, who bring their kids. Kids bring coaches and teammates, or scout leaders and members, or school leaders and classmates.

Many of our volunteers have been with us for more than a decade, and like other families, we share in our struggles and shine in our successes.

Our volunteer corps has grown from the initial 12 to hundreds. And they keep showing up.

That’s hope.

❤️ And of course there are our donors, whose continued generosity and support have enabled Franciscan Charities to do so much to bring hope to our neighbors in Newark.

Our numbers tell the story. Over the years, Franciscan Charities has served over a million meals, donated over 20 thousand coats, hats, gloves, scarves and toys, provided countless packs of diapers, personal hygiene products and school supplies, worked with more than a thousand volunteers and resolved just as many social service and welfare issues.

We are committed to showing up and carrying on throughout this difficult time, making good on our promises to our neighbors in Newark.

But Franciscan Charities needs your help.

On this #GivingTuesday and every day, please consider making a donation to our organization.  No amount is too small.

“It is in giving that we receive.”