Redemptorists logo
Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon
Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
Redemptorists logo


Features
Friday

A day at St. Clement’s Outreach

Volunteers with St. Clement’s Outreach program pose in the food pantry. About 150 volunteers in various ministries serve more than 300 people each month.

It’s 9 a.m. on a typical Tuesday morning at St. Clement’s Church in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Of the 100 or so daily Mass-goers, only a handful remain, chatting over a cup of coffee in the parish center.

Now a dozen men and women wait in front of a door at the other end of the lobby. As it opens, they rush toward the smiling volunteer seated at a desk, jostling and arguing about who arrived first. Learning that one guest has a doctor’s appointment in less than an hour, the volunteer negotiates an agreement acceptable to all.

Thus begins another day at the parish’s Outreach apostolate. With a mission to perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, its members seek to be living examples of Catholic holiness and generosity, inspiring love of Christ and his Church. Services are offered to parishioners and community members alike, without regard to religious affiliation.

As a Redemptorist parish, St. Clement’s has always been mindful of service to the community. But it was Rev. James O’Blaney who created the position of Outreach pastoral associate in the late 1990s and along with it a fund for the local poor. Donation boxes were placed at each church exit, and parishioners responded generously.

Within a few years St. Clement’s was providing gift cards, financial help, and holiday gifts to more than 100 households every year. St. Clement’s became a leader in the Saratoga Springs service community, co-founding a network of secular and faith-based organizations to better serve those in need. The economic crisis of 2008 brought a sharp increase in requests for assistance, and parishioners responded generously. Volunteers and donations grew; new programs developed.

Today Outreach programs provide food, financial assistance, baby and toddler items, spiritual support, and referrals/advocacy. About 150 volunteers serve more than 300 adults and children from 200 households each month.

As the first Outreach guest of the day is escorted by another volunteer to make her selections from the food pantry, the others help themselves to a cup of coffee, choose from a selection of holy cards, browse donated children’s items, or visit with volunteers while waiting to be helped—usually no longer than 20 minutes. An average of 25 to 30 guests will go through between 9 a.m. and noon. But even when the wait is longer, it’s worth it.

Guests select food for their families in the quantity needed, choosing from fresh produce, baked goods, dairy, meat, personal-hygiene and baby-care items, and non-perishable food. It’s an honor system that works surprisingly well and shows respect to those who are often not treated respectfully by the world.

A distraught young mother approaches the welcome desk, baby on her hip and screaming toddler in tow. She heard the church helps with rent. The greeter assures her the church does help with rent. But the coordinator is with someone at the moment; she’ll meet with her next. In the meantime, why not go through the food pantry? The greeter asks a volunteer to find the toddler some snacks and toys, which settle him down.

The volunteer and mom fill out a Baby Blessing Basket form, listing needs for baby, toddler, and mom. In the next two weeks Elizabeth Ministry volunteers will assemble the basket, using donations from parishioners.

A gentleman volunteer pushes a cart laden with bags of food, diapers, and personal-care supplies across the parking lot and loads all into the trunk of the car. Returning to the parish center, he introduces the mother to Marianne McGhan, food pantry and financial-assistance coordinator, for an interview.

Personal interviews are integral to the financial-assistance process of St. Clement’s Outreach. Seeing and listening to another person makes a statement about his or her dignity as someone made in the image and likeness of God. Outreach guests often comment that the atmosphere at St. Clement’s is welcoming and friendly—even peaceful. Outreach volunteers strive to see Jesus in every face and to serve with his mother’s heart. Each volunteer name tag features a crucifix, the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and the inscription Ad Jesum per Mariam (To Jesus through Mary).

With the young mother’s baby asleep and her toddler once again growing restless, the interview is short. The father was injured at work. He will receive disability, but it won’t start for at least three weeks, and they were already behind on their rent. Their income is too high for county help.

With tears in her eyes, the mother produces a three-day notice of eviction. After a few questions, Marianne is certain the eviction is not imminent and that the family is eligible for assistance through St. Clement’s.

She gives the mother some paperwork to complete and reassures her that all will be OK. Mom bursts into tears, overwhelmed by the outpouring of kindness she has experienced since she walked in the door.

As Marianne says goodbye with assurances of the parish’s prayers, a volunteer ushers in the next guest. Relying on Jesus through Mary, the staff and volunteers of St. Clement’s Outreach will do what they can to help him leave a little less burdened than he was when he walked in.