Chicago Catholics, are you having trouble figuring out just what to do during Lent? Lent focuses on three major goals: prayer, fasting, and charity. Having written extensively about Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent during past Chicago Catholic Examiner columns, I opted to give up my “introduction to Lent” topics for Lent this year. But now Lent is upon us, and the question remains – what are we going to do about it?
Here's a humble suggestion from your Chicago Catholic Examiner: a recent article in the Catholic New World (the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago) was titled “Cold weather equals more requests for help”. It noted how many Catholic agencies that serve the poor and homeless are being swamped this year, due the severe level of snow, ice, and cold winter we've experienced throughout the Chicago area. The City of Chicago's 311 help line typically receives between 3,000 and 4,000 calls a month, but received over 5,000 this January.
In short, emergency services program, food pantries, homeless shelters, clothing drives, and many other programs that assist the poor and needy are understaffed and in desperate need of help. A good example of this is a Catholic homeless shelter: the Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph Shelter, located at 2715 W. Harrison St. in Chicago. They are a non-profit organization that has been keeping their doors open 24 hours a day, so people can seek shelter from the periods of extremely cold weather in Chicago. Visitors to the shelter receive breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and case workers are available to meet with them during the day. Volunteers at the shelter also distribute warm clothing, including socks, hats, scarves and gloves. Often they need extra kitchen help and supervision. During February’s unusually freezing cold spell (dropping to eight below zero), all 260 beds were filled, and the shelter had to pull out several emergency cots so people had a place to sleep. If there is no more room left, the Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph Shelter tries to find space for them at other nearby area shelters. The Franciscans also operate the Outreach’s Marquard Center, located at 1645 W. LeMoyne St. in Chicago, which has a soup kitchen and laundry facilities for homeless people. It stays open all day as well, and outreach workers often go to sites where homeless people will congregate in order to encourage them to go to a shelter to stay safe in the winter weather.
It seems unlikely Chicago's endless winter is going away any time soon, so why not donate or volunteer to help out at a local Chicago area homeless shelter or soup kitchen? You can find out more about them at www.franoutreach.org or www.catholiccharities.net. Take to reflect and pray about what you can do to help out this Lenten season. I'm sure my faithful readers can find a place to volunteer that's right for them.