Parishioners around the Diocese of Phoenix reached out to assist the homeless during December and found creative ways to share the joy and warmth of the Christmas season.
Helping these families has been a priority for Tracy Ryan, a parishioner at St. Benedict in Ahwatukee, where she is able to provide hope for the homeless through her parish’s collaboration with Family Promise, a non-profit homeless shelter for families. The organization assists families in getting back on their feet and into permanent housing.
“If you think about it, all of us are one injury or illness away from being homeless,” Ryan said. “When a breadwinner loses a job for any reason, there is no income to pay rent, let alone all the other bills. With no savings or other family members to turn to for help, these families are referred to Family Promise for a Hand-Up.”
Several parishes in the Valley partnered with Family Promise during the months of December and January to offer hope to those in need. “Our parishes provide hope to these families by providing a meal and shelter, as well as an opportunity to interact with others in a non-judgmental, relaxed setting,” Ryan said. “We share meals with the families and then the children play while the adults enjoy conversation.”
The Family Promise Program generally lasts about sixty days. During this period, Family Promise aids families in finding employment and obtaining a place to live.
Linda Rego, a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale, has been involved with the program for twelve years. She explained that local parishes will house a family for a week at a time. “The group of families our parish was assigned will come back to our church for seven nights,” Rego said. “We provide all the food for breakfast, lunch and dinner of that week.”
Rego has watched the program make a difference to so many people, including the smallest children. “We get all denominations and we don’t ever ask people what their religion is but we do say grace before dinner,” Rego said. “One night this 7- year-old boy raised his hand and asked if he could lead grace that night. He repeated the exact prayer I had said the night before.”
Rego also explained that this opportunity to serve others is perfect for all ages. “The older, more mature generation can donate the products that are needed, while families can come in and cook a dinner from beginning to end,” Rego said. “They can play with the children and we also have families who chaperone over-night.” Rego explained that it’s wonderful to see families with children volunteering in the program. “I think it’s great camaraderie that the children learn that these families aren’t any different than your next door neighbor or the kids they go to school with,” Rego said.
One of the benefits for families who receive help from the Phoenix program is that they are able to keep their pets as well. “This is something that was very much needed because a lot of families will sleep in their cars just to keep their pets with them and no shelters will take them,” Rego said. “We are now able to shelter the family pets as well as the families themselves.”
Rego explained that it’s hard to say who benefits more from the program, the families in need or the ones who serve them. “It helps us practice our faith,” Rego said. “We’re taught to help others, whether we know them or we don’t, but a lot of times people will only help those they know. This is a way to do what the Bible teaches us which is to help everybody and really share that love,” Ryan said.