On the heels of last October’s successful Project Homeless Connect, St. John Community Foundation is joining forces with local churches, Catholic Charities, Coral Bay Community Council and island businesses to make sure Love City’s neediest residents are taken care of all year long.
“Helping Other People Eat (HOPE) was born of the success of Project Homeless Connect which had its first event in St. John last October thanks to the efforts of the Department of Human Services, Innovative and numerous non-profit organizations and multitudes of volunteers and community donations,” said SJCF executive director Celia Kalousek.
With so much support for the single day, Kalousek was encouraged to do more for the island’s homeless. This new initiative, however, will not replace Project Homeless Connect, she explained.
“Project Homeless Connect, which is a one day event designed to connect homeless persons with essential services, support, and quality of life resources will be coming again this fall, but in the meantime, St. John has mobilized to help those in need,” said the SJCF executive director.
Kalousek first realized how many residents on St. John are homeless or at risk of homelessness back in 2009, she explained.
“During the 2009 Point in Time Nationwide Homeless Count, St. John documented 26 homeless individuals,” Kalousek said.
When Kalousek helped out with the count again in 2011, she was shocked at the numbers.
“In January of 2011, the number of documented homeless increased to 45,” said the SJCF executive director. “And that does not include the ‘Hidden Homeless’ and the individuals who are teetering on the edge of homelessness, couch surfing or living on boats without adequate plumbing, lights, or refrigeration. These individuals need help getting nutritious meals while they are trying to make ends meet.”
While Catholic Charities provides meals to homeless residents each Tuesday at Nazareth Lutheran Church in Cruz Bay and at a location in Coral Bay, Kalousek thought more was needed and the staff at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Cruz Bay agreed.
“Catholic Charities provides a meal to the Homeless on Tuesdays at the Nazareth Lutheran Church and in Coral Bay, but that is not enough to help those who go hungry every day of the week,” she said. “Spurred to action by the knowledge that many on St. John are one medical accident and two paychecks away from being hungry or homeless, Father Anthony and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church congregation members decided to do more.”
The Cruz Bay catholic church now serves lunch to homeless residents each Monday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In order to keep those pantries full, Kalousek has been working with Starfish Market employees who help to make sure there is always plenty of food. If even more volunteers are recruited and donations received, Mount Carmel officials are willing to do even more, according to Kalousek.
“Starfish Market has provided food that supplements the donations from individuals and they now offer lunch from their Kalaloo Kitchen on Mondays and Fridays at the Catholic Church’s hall,” she said. “And they are willing to do more as volunteers and food donations come together to make it possible.”
So Kalousek teamed up with CBCC president Sharon Coldren and local businesses to kick off an island-wide food drive. Residents are encouraged to drop off non-perishable food items throughout the month of May in Cruz Bay at Starfish Market and the SJCF Office and in Coral Bay at Connections East and Keep Me Posted at the Cocoloba shopping complex.
The food will be used to feed the island’s homeless population and stock a much-needed food pantry, Kalousek explained.
“St. John is having a Food Drive to offer help through HOPE to anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing homelessness,” she said. “People can help by donating food that will be used in our local soup kitchens and development of a food pantry. So please check your pantry and if you have something you can live without, donate it to someone who can’t.”
As this initiative moves along, Kalousek foresees expanding the services available to the island’s neediest residents, she added.
“As we make the connections, we hope to reach out with more supportive services such as substance abuse counseling, employment coaching, and more,” she said. “We are also looking for a location to create a food pantry and clothes closet, as well as a place to shower. If anyone has any ideas, please join us and offer help to the hopeful.”
For more information about how to help feed the island’s homeless, call Kalousek at SJCF at 693-9410.