“Every time I come out here, the church is always there for me, and for Scruffy,” said Patrick Joseph Desmarias, 54 who is homeless. Scruffy is his dog.
The two are regular recipients of the Loaves and Fishes program, is part of an outreach ministry Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church provides a Halifax Urban Ministries shelter in Daytona Beach the first and third Saturday of each month.
Volunteers from the Port Orange church bring food, clothing and other needed items to those that eagerly await their arrival, sometimes numbering more than 200, of all ages and races.
Mr. Demarias had been staying with relatives and through tears said, “I tried to make myself good, my girl died last April.” He added he now sleeps “wherever,” but the church’s presence spreads love for “broke down” people.
“I got so much love in my heart it’s immense,” he said with a big smile.
Angie Matkovic, 55, is three weeks clean from drugs and was in line to receive items from Loaves and Fishes. She said, “it’s getting harder out here. A lot of shelters are shut down. They are not even helping domestic (violence) victims, they are not taking them into shelter either. Things are changing.”
Regarding Loaves and Fishes, she said, “They are our guardian angels. We love them. They are the best.”
Ms. Matkovic stated she had hope for the future. She was an artist and was going to start painting again.
“Papa Smurf” as he likes to be called on the street is 70 and thinks the program is also great. “They give us stuff that we can’t get elsewhere like reading glasses, some good books to read,” Papa Smurf said. “I am a reader, I enjoy reading. Some clothes and some extra food. Some nice sneakers. They are just lifesavers.”
Fr. Chris Hoffmann, pastor at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church, noted a couple started Loaves and Fishes, looking to directly help the homeless.
“It blossomed under the direction of Deacon Dave Sekel,” Fr. Hoffman said. “It now has grown to be a vibrant ministry where parishioners boil eggs to be given away, food and clothing is regularly collected and sorted for distribution, and an amazing Christmas concert raised money to do even more.
“I am so pleased to see the outpouring of generosity and love by the people of Our Lady of Hope,” he said. “They show me every day that God’s bounty far outweighs our limitations. I know that our homeless brothers and sisters realize they are not alone in the world because of the kindness of our folks in Loaves and Fishes.”
The program started about four years ago after Deacon Sekel learned about an OLOH's parishioner feeding the homeless on his own.
“Combining my experience with Mobile Loaves & Fishes in Austin, Texas, we expanded this effort,” he said. “The ministry is important as it encapsulates so many aspects of the social teachings of our church, namely the parameters that define social justice.”
Joe McCauley, co-director of Loaves and Fishes, said twice a month a van plus five or six SUVs go to HUM from Our Lady of Hope, loaded with tables to set up, along with clothing, toiletries and food. There are about 25 volunteers.
“In addition to sandwiches, bananas, other food items and soda/water, we focus our limited resources on purchasing/distributing items that are most needed by homeless men, women and children – backpacks; shoes; socks; soap; toilet paper; razors; combs and other toiletries,” Mr. McCauley said. “In total, we spend roughly $1,500 a month on supplies for the homeless. 100 percent of any revenue we receive goes to the homeless. We are also blessed with fantastic support from other ministries within Our Lady of Hope (choir, outreach ministry, Council of Catholic Women, Knights of Columbus).
“We are always on the lookout for men’s clothing, shoes at thrift stores. We do have women and children that we serve, but the majority of our clients are men. Men's sneakers are especially in high demand as are blue jeans, T-shirts, shorts, socks, underwear, sweaters (in winter) and backpacks (which go immediately as they are used 24/7 by the homeless).”
Carlos Hernandez is totally blind, and has been volunteering with Loaves and Fishes for almost a year. He said, “It is good to help other people. You help me, I help you, this world will be a much better place.”
Ms. Matkovic emphasized the truly homeless get a bad rap because “they are not all homeless. A lot of them (on the street) are addicts that rob everybody. Everybody is different, all different people with all different souls.”
Donations and corporate sponsors are needed. Anyone interested, can call Bill Piper at (386) 566-0778. For more information, visit ladyofhope.org.