St. Francis House is doing more than just putting a band-aid on the homelessness problem that so agitates the city. Their goal is to engage the homeless to become self-sufficient, achieve stability, and plan for their future rather than just providing them temporary shelter. Care for basic needs is, of course, one of the services the home provides, but their doors are open for a lot more.
So after coming into contact with the work of St. Francis House for previous issues of the magazine, albeit briefly, we were all curious to see what the front lines of organization looked like. So we headed to the pantry.
The pantry of St. Francis House houses all the donated food that the organization then distributes to its clients, and every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, they give out boxes of food to those that sign up for them. These boxes aren’t just for the homeless, either. To receive them, a person or family must only be a St. Johns County resident and meet the qualifications for low-income.
In the tight quarters, between shelves of cans, crackers, and cartons, Heather, Andrew, and I began checking expiration dates on the food that hadn’t yet been shelved. Expired food is tossed and the rest is sorted on the shelves. Once this food had been organized, we began putting together the boxes.
The first thing in the boxes is the food that St. Francis House receives from the government. After this has been distributed, we move to the other side of the pantry to the donated items. Sometimes, these shelves are full to the brim (especially around the holidays), but today they’re a little scarce. The other volunteer guiding us helps with making sure each of the almost 40 boxes gets a well-rounded offering of food anyways. The clients will get canned food, pasta, milk, meat, even snacks.
Volunteering gave us a first-hand view of the time, effort, and love of both volunteers and employees that goes into each aspect of St. Francis House’s work. Even if time isn’t something you’re able to give, the home has other needs. “Like most nonprofits, our biggest need is financial support,” says Karen Hensel. “Food is critical and a constant need. However, one of the most overlooked needs is for people to spread the word. Let people know how they can join the thousands of other people in our community who are changing lives through their gifts of time, talent and treasure to St. Francis House.”