Four times a year, St. Julie Billiart Catholic Church becomes more than a house of God — it transforms into a house for the homeless.
Working with the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cleveland, the North Ridgeville church is one of the few churches in the area that helps people who have lost their homes and jobs stay warm and fed as they try to get back on their feet.
For a week next month, church volunteers will be making sure those families are well-cared for.
The Rev. Richard Gonser said his church first learned of the organization from a late parishioner, Joan Havanish, who until the time of her death last summer was part of the church’s social justice commission, a ministry that looks for different ways to help people in need.
“Joan went to several meetings and brought it up to us and it has been here ever since. That was almost 10 years ago,” Gonser said. “We feel very honored and happy to offer that service. It’s a good experience to be able to help people who have temporarily lost their homes and jobs and to provide them with a safe harbor that is comfortable.”
Parishioners Toni Yandura, Nancy Kubiak and Gary and Fran Crone have stepped in to fill Havanish’s shoes.
“We are feeling our way through now (without Joan). The good thing about St. Julie’s is that there are a lot of volunteers who volunteer every time,” Yandura said.
Since St. Julie’s opened its doors to families who are down on their luck, more than 200 volunteers have stepped forward to help care for the families in the seven days they’re at the church. The volunteers — who include several parishioners from St. Peter Catholic Church in North Ridgeville — help cook, clean, pack lunches, donate food and monitor the evening hours when the families eat, relax and spend the night on cots located inside classrooms at the church.
“In the evening, volunteers prepare meals and they play with the kids, help (older) kids with their homework and talk to the parents. On Saturday and Sunday, we cook them breakfast; other days it’s a continental breakfast,” Yandura said. “But on Sunday, they are put on a van and they go to the next place.”
Gonser said during the week, the children go to school and the parents work with social workers to secure jobs and housing in transportation provided by the network.
The families who are part of Interfaith Hospitality Network have between two and three months to land on their feet before they must seek help elsewhere, Gonser said.
And each family that comes through the doors of St. Julie’s has a different story.
“One family moved here from out West and were trying to get established. A dad might be incarcerated or a mom might be struggling by herself,” Yandura said. “Nancy heard from a family before the holiday that a mom got a job and a house. What kind of cool gift is that?”
Currently, St. Julie’s is the only church in Lorain County that is part of the network, although a similar program, called Family Promise, will begin next month at First United Methodist Church in Elyria.