By Jeff Grant, THE CATHOLIC SUN
MESA, Ariz. — “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
These words from St. Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 25:35-36) define the mission of Paz de Cristo.
Seeking to help people who struggle with hunger, poverty and homelessness, Paz de Cristo — which is Spanish for peace of Christ — feeds, bathes and clothes anyone who comes through their doors at 424 W. Broadway Road, according to the previous executive director Joe Tansill.
“There are no requirements,” Tansill said. “We are open and serve all who have a need. We are the only organization in the East Valley that provides a hot, nutritious meal every night of the year.”
Begun in 1988 by St. Timothy parish in Mesa, the outreach started as a food service and family shelter for the homeless in the East Valley. Though it became the focus of St. Timothy’s Corporal Works of Mercy, the vision included an interfaith component in which multiple faith communities would pool both financial and human resources.
In 2008, Paz became a 501c3 corporation, enabling it to become free from federal, state and property taxes. It is now not affiliated with any specific church but is among the 70 agencies and organizations supported by Diocese of Phoenix Charity & Development Appeal.
Today, Paz de Cristo continues to provide a daily meal as well as a snack to go – a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. The hot meal consists of a main entrée — beef, fish or chicken – as well as a fresh, green salad, fruit salad, and bread, potatoes or other starch form. Cooked vegetables are often included.
“We average 185 meals a night,” Tansill said. “We make about 200 sandwiches every night.”
Meals are served daily from 4:00-7:00 p.m. The organization also collaborates with partner agencies, such as St. Vincent de Paul, to deliver food boxes.
Every third Thursday of the month, Paz de Cristo conducts a Senior Delivery Day, in which it partners with outside agencies to pick up food boxes and deliver them to homebound elderly.
Paz de Cristo also offers to clean those in need.
Every Wednesday, for two hours in the morning and again for two hours in the afternoon, the organization holds a Shower Day. Guests are provided with a mobile shower facility on site with four stalls — ten minutes per shower including drying time – and a full set of new underwear, and a hygiene kit consisting of travel-size soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, foot powder, a toothbrush and toothpaste, comb and sometimes a razor.
On a recent Wednesday, the organization provided showers for 73 individuals, Tansill said.
The organization also provides free haircuts by licensed cosmetologists and barbers.
The ministry goes beyond cleaning and feeding.
Paz de Cristo seeks to empower the homeless as well as the working poor – those barely able to get by on a paycheck — by helping them take their first steps toward self-sustainability…and getting off the streets permanently.
“We will assist then with obtaining a driver’s license or an Arizona ID card, a copy of their birth certificate. We have a jobs center that helps them with a search, including resume-writing, interview preparation, and we can provide clothing for job interviews, as well as job coaching after they are hired. We will provide up to six months’ assistance toward a monthly bus pass, including the first month free. After that, they pay a reduced rate,” Tansill said.
Additionally, Paz works with agencies to help an individual apply for housing, state and federal benefits, and substance-abuse treatment.
Several partnering agencies, including Circle the City, COPA Health and St. Vincent de Paul help support a mobile medical clinic that visits the organization once a week to provide free medical care. The clinic is staffed by a nurse practitioner who can diagnose, treat and write prescriptions.
Tansill said 60 percent of Paz’s clients are men, and about 14 percent of all its clients are under 17.
Most of Paz de Cristo’s staff are volunteers. Tansill said anyone can help – long term or for days at a time here or there.
Food banks and donors provide a large share of Paz’s support, but the public can contribute using Arizona’s Tax Credit program, which allows the filer to claim a Charitable Tax Credit on Arizona Form 321 when filing state taxes. A filer can designate all or a portion of what he or she owes in taxes to a particular charity, and thus wipe out the obligation of paying the state that money.
If Paz were to obtain enough additional funding, Tansill said it would add more shower days and expand its employment center assistance from the present two half-days per week.
Those interested in volunteering can visit the organization’s website, pazdecristo.org/
“We are a one-stop location that provides wide array of resources that helps people overcome the barriers in their life,” Tansill said. “I consider it a success every night we have offered a hot meal or provided a piece of clothing, a smile or a ‘Hello’ to someone who is going through a dark time.”