What Urban Missionaries Do

As they say, “These are interesting times we live in.” No truer words have ever been spoken in my humble opinion. I don’t remember anything like this in my whole life.  Everything is so uncertain and everything seems to take forever — at the bank, post office, registry of motor vehicles, supermarkets, and superstores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. It is difficult for those of us who are native to this country, but you just can’t imagine how very difficult it is for newly arrived families. 

When we got the governor’s order to shut down and stay home we did not realize the enormity of this action and the chaos it was going to cause. We immediately tried to determine which of our programs were essential and which one we could close down without adversely impacting those who rely on these services. As we reviewed each program we asked ourselves, “Would closing down this program cause harm to those being served?” And conversely, “Would keeping this program open cause harm to those providing the services?”

We immediately thought about our Food Program and the  over one hundred families per week we were working with in order to provide their food needs. “This cannot stop,” I said, “We have to keep this going as long as we have resources to buy food, if necessary, in the event we run into a problem with receiving our supplies for the Worcester County Food Bank.” It was a no-brainer as far as we were concerned. We would have to figure out the safety precautions, etc, but no matter what we needed to keep that supply of food flowing to the community.

When we announced our plan to keep the Saint Oscar Romero food pantry at the Cathedral of Saint Paul in downtown Worcester open, no matter what the cost in procuring food or the danger of being infected, we had some serious pushback from people who said we were endangering the lives of our volunteers and ourselves. Others told us that we were on track and would pray for our protection. Believe me when I tell you we did listen to these statements and there was some serious discussion among ourselves concerning the dangers we were going to encounter.

History shows us that the Christian, seeing the problem, even in the face of danger, moves to help others, no matter who they are, what they look like, or what they believe, they are to be helped. During the Black plague, Christians stayed with the sick and dying to give aid and comfort, while everyone else fled. Our modern day hospital system has its genesis in monasteries of the Dark Ages with their primitive knowledge of medicine and the human body. 

So for us it was a very difficult decision that had to be made in favor of caring for others no matter what the cost. That’s what Christians did before us, and that’s what Christians do today, and that’s what Christians will do tomorrow, with the help of God!

From the Director

Well, the COVID – 19 pandemic still rages, although it seems to be slowly dying out. The numbers in Massachusetts are still declining, but until they reach zero new cases and zero deaths we cannot stop praying for those afflicted with this disease. 

Its effect upon our work has been as dramatic as other businesses and ministries. In my last editorial, I related how we were planning to respond, keeping all of us here safe and maintaining payroll, while we awaited aid via the Payroll Protection Program. It was a very trying time, because in March and April some were panicking, others were not giving a damn, and still others had no clue as to what the problem was.

We got lucky in our attempt to get a PPP loan. Kathy and Lois, along with our personnel advisors waded through the quagmire of federal bureaucracy that seemed to change almost daily while trying to put together a correct application. If it wasn’t for an advisor from the Small Business Administration’s SCORE program (Senior Corp of Retired Executives) who not only told us exactly what to do, but also  provided names and telephone numbers of bank personnel that would help us secure our PPP loan, we would have completely missed this opportunity. I can tell you that we would be facing a much more drastic situation than the one we are facing now.

It appears that we will be somewhere between $30,000 to $40,000 short on our budget for the remainder of this year, and we will have used up all of our rainy day monies. We will be starting next year with the same amount of money we had when we started forty years ago, zero!

But as I have told you many times before, “This is a faith ministry, He gives us exactly what we need when we need it, and not a second before or a second after.” With this in mind, we are pressing forward, ever hopeful with a number of initiatives to help speed up our recovery. 

We are working to increase the number of people coming into the LittleStore by advertising in the weekly newspaper Vocero as well as sending out biweekly store flyers via Facebook and emailing them to over 2,000 LittleStore customers.

We will open up our loyalty program to all customers. All customers will receive a 10% discount when they present their loyalty cards. Customers who are DTA clients will receive a 30% discount when they present their loyalty cards.

We are continuing our color of the month discount for any item in the store over three months.

We have extended our store hours on Thursday and Friday from 4:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M.

We are going to launch our annual Sustainer Drive. This year we are introducing “The Blessed Beggar” icon as a way of making sure everyone understands that we are supported only by what alms we can get by begging.

We will be reaching out to everyone to help in some form or another.

To those who are Sustainers we will be asking if they would be willing to reach out to their family and friends to become Sustainers.

To those who come and volunteer their time for the many different programs and those who receive StreetLights we will be asking if they can join us as a Sustainer.

To those who we have interacted with in some way or another, we will send out the appeal via email and U.S. postal mail, as well as calling them to see if they would be willing to become a sustainer.

We do understand that times are difficult, many are mourning the loss of loved ones due to COVID – 19 and many more have not been able to properly bury their dead. We grieve with you and you are in our prayers.

We are sending out flyers on our Day of Prayerful Work and Fill-A-Truck programs to every parish in the Worcester Diocese. Our hope is that we will be able to convince the parish youth minister and the pastor that these two programs are a viable way for parish youth to experience “love in action” and it will help reduce our cash shortfall.

On the brighter side we have had some very good news on the housing front. Saint Stephen Housing Initiative is in line for another sizable donation to help fund the purchase of a second house for refugees, immigrants and asylees in the Worcester area. We hope to get this project started by the end of the year.

We have two new volunteers that have joined us for one day a week. Steve Shields is helping out with our computer systems and Brenda Seymour will be working with families in the Saint Stephen Housing Initiative program.  We thank them for stepping out from their busy personal lives to help with our works of mercy. Please add them to your prayer list.

Store Reopening

Like many of us, I have recently gone through some of the strangest times in my life. I am of course referring to my time spent as the Retail Operations Manager for the Urban Missionaries. Just kidding – I am talking about my whole life turned upside down during the pandemic. 

In the last issue of Streetlights, Walter gave you all an update on how we were weathering the storm, and what our future plans were. I am very pleased to report that we weathered the storm just fine, and Walter and Kathy’s plans apparently worked, or else I wouldn’t be typing this right now.

The Urban Missionaries are indeed back in business, just as the introductory article for this issue states. All our programs are running full steam and a new issue of Streetlights is out the door and in your hands. The road to get here has been rocky though. We had to shut down the whole of 242 Canterbury Street, deep clean and prepare, and then re-open and welcome our neighbors and donors back in. 

It was tough to first shutter the whole store when the pandemic was really lifting off. Some of you know me, and know that this is my first “real” job out of college. It’s a big responsibility to be trusted with the Urban Missionaries’ retail operations. Never having been responsible for something so intricate before, it was hard to let it all go, and not know if I would ever be able to reopen it again. 

As Walter told you in the last issue, he and Kathy managed to keep some of our programs running, and kept myself and all of the rest of the staff on the payroll. It is a testament to the power of this ministry to enact change in its community that we kept the lifeline of food open to people desperately in need, while keeping the lifeline of employment open to the people who work hard every day making it all a reality.

Well, eventually, I got the good news. We were going to reopen! Back to normal operations! I was terribly excited to be going back to my normal work routine. However, I had seen the inside of stores on runs to pick up toilet paper and other essentials. I knew I had some work to do.

Did you ever wonder how all those arrows and stickers on the floor of your local supermarket get there? I do! I was somewhat disappointed to learn that it was not magic, and I would have to make it all happen. With everyone’s help, we put together a floor plan, made the appropriate signage, and we even put all the little one-way arrows down. I also got to put into practice some atrophied wood working skills developed during my time at Worcester Technical High School to make a sneeze shield for the front counter. Finally, it was time to put it all to the test and re-open.

That brings us to the present day. The store is open, people are receiving help, and all the staff are back to normal work. We couldn’t be happier, and we are incredibly thankful for the community behind us, all of you, for your tireless support and friendship to this ministry. We’re going to keep going, and keep serving, and hope you will all join us for many years to come.