Fighting homelessness through creative generosity in SoCal

Sisters on the Frontlines brings practical solutions to pandemic challenges

In Los Angeles County, nearly 50,000 people, which includes senior citizens and children, are without homes. Under ordinary circumstances, food pantries and housing programs often struggle to meet their needs. Now the pandemic has forced even more people to rely on these services, while organizations themselves adapt to new health precautions.  

Thankfully, two Sisters of Notre Dame are using creativity, compassion, and grants from Sisters on the Frontlines to help those in need.  

Respectfully serving those in need

In the 40 years Sister Lisa Megaffin, SND has served the area, she has not allowed the homeless statistics to overwhelm or discourage her. In fact, her resolve to ensure the dignity of these individuals is not lost in the numbers has only strengthened:

As food, housing and medical care insecurity grow more and more rampant in our country (and around the world), I feel even more determined to serve those in need.” 

As one of Southern California’s staunchest advocates for the homeless population, Sr. Lisa has attended hundreds of town hall meetings,  continuously lobbied city and county officials, has interviewed hundreds of homeless individuals in the annual HUD-mandated homeless count, and learned much about real estate development and construction.

Photo of Sister Lisa Megaffin, S.N.D. from Sisters of Notre Dame group blog

It is not unusual for a family to have to decide between rent, food, or medicine; it is sinful that our social conscience has let this situation evolve to such a sad state.”

The dignity of choice

While volunteering at a food pantry, she noticed that recipients were grateful for whatever came in their boxes each week, but they had no choice in which foods they receive. Many of us take for granted the dignity held in a simple trip to the supermarket and choosing groceries. For these families, that simple act is out of reach. 

When Catholic Extension’s Sisters on the Frontlines $1000 grant arrived, Sr. Lisa wanted to do something to change that. She purchased gift cards to a local grocery store so that families would not only have the food they needed for the week, but were able to select food items for themselves.

She then delivered them to Many Mansions, an organization that provides housing for those in need, and where she serves as secretary. Amidst the added hardships caused by the pandemic, this simple act of kindness was a prayer answered for many residents.

“How different our world could be if our efforts for a more equitable distribution of the world’s goods included more experiences of the poor-in-our midst. Thank you again for providing these transformative gifts.

 Sr. Lisa Megaffin S.N.D 

Empowering individuals with technology 

Serving nearby in Santa Monica, Sister Rose Marie Tulacz, SND, saw homeless people charging their cell phones at the back of the church, in the local library or outside buildings.  But with the pandemic and the ongoing building closures, she knew they had little or no access to power sources for their cell phones.  

Even before the pandemic, she dreamt on distributing Unite to Light solar cell phone chargers. The small chargers fit into a pocket or backpack and  also include a flashlight.  

Man experiencing homelessness sleeps next to a  phone charger

A grant from Sisters on the Frontlines made this dream a reality. Sister Rose Marie wrote that the generous funding to use $1000 was “magical,” adding:  

For a religious sister with an extreme vow of poverty, it felt so, well, liberating and wild to be given total freedom to purchase 30 solar chargers to help alleviate pandemic suffering.”

She started in Reed Park, known to be a dangerous homeless encampment across the street from St. Monica Church in Santa Monica.  Two electric sockets outside the front doors of the church were vandalized and no longer usable. So when she and pastor Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson crossed the street after the morning liturgy to distribute some of the solar chargers, some of their neighbors were overwhelmed by their hospitality.  

Sister Rose Marie Tulacz, SND distributes solar phone chargers to combat homelessness in park across from St. Monica

Making Connections, Changing Lives

One man cried when he spoke with Msgr. Torgerson and received his solar cell phone charger.  He said he had been a parishioner for 40 years at St. Monica Parish, living nearby in a residence on Montana Street. He had come upon hard times. Msgr. was able to assure him he is still  part of the parish, and always welcome.  

In other parts of Ventura County, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles, Sister Rose distributed the remaining chargers. Thanks to the generosity of Frontlines donors, a man named Doug can now call his truant officer to check in. Rosa is able to call her AA sponsor when she gets panic attacks.  Frank is less agitated knowing he won’t miss receiving a long-awaited phone call from housing assistance. Rita is no longer worried she will miss a phone call if she receives a call to clean a home.

Sister Rose was moved by the men and women she met. As she spoke with them, she witnessed their love and goodness, and learned of their struggles. To her surprise, many said they would share their chargers with others on the streets.

Sister Rose Marie saw her $1,000 Sisters on the Frontlines grant as a way to demonstrate how hope can prevail in the darkest of times: 

“Even in a pandemic we have the chance to reach out. Share the hope. Share the Light of Christ.  But even better, be Hope. Be Light. This is the key to our making it through this pandemic together.” 

 

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