By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
One of the problems with being homeless is you don’t have a mailbox. That may seem trivial but it really isn’t. Homeless people very often rely on the mail for such things as public assistance checks, small pensions, documents to do with health care issues, keeping in touch with family, whatever. They’ve got to get that mail somewhere.
That’s where St. John’s Hospice, the Archdiocese’s venerable Center City shelter and soup kitchen, comes in.
It is probably the largest pickup point for mail in Philadelphia for the homeless and transients.
Frank Kling, a volunteer at St. John’s, is one of the people who keeps all that mail straight, and it’s quite a job. He estimates there are 3,000 inspaniduals who give the 40-bed shelter as their mailing address.
A couple of days a week, after the 8:30 Mass at nearby St. John the Evangelist Church where he is a daily communicant, Kling goes to the hospice and helps sort out all that mail and distributes to whoever stops by for it.
“I’m retired,” Kling said. “A couple of years ago I got bored with doing nothing and started doing this.”
Turning 74 in September, until recent years he was a member of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Manayunk. A graduate of Roman Catholic High School and St. Joseph’s University with a degree in accounting, he was drafted into the Army, where he did accounting work in Alaska.Then began his career in the Philadelphia area, ultimately rising to the position of corporate controller with a chemical distribution company.
His vocation was accounting but his avocation was – and is – softball. He’s still playing and is probably the oldest member of his league.
But at least in Philadelphia, softball is not a year-round sport. A bachelor, Kling had that time on his hands, and what better way to spend it than through volunteerism? Although at this time St. John’s Hospice is his main outlet, he also volunteered with Manna, a local organization that provides meals for shut-ins with AIDS or cancer, and with the St. John’s Good Shepherd Program, which provides residential services to medically fragile homeless men.
Mail service isn’t the only thing he does during his twice weekly stints at St. John’s. Another need of the mostly homeless men who come to the hospice is toiletries. Kling sorts and distributes those also. When, as is often the case, there is not enough toothpaste, toothbrushes, lotions, razors and soap donated, he goes to a wholesale distributor at Fifth and Spring Garden Streets and buys, out of his own pocket, travel-size toiletries in bulk. The same holds true for winter necessities, including watch caps, scarves and gloves.
“I’ll keep doing this until I can’t do it anymore,” Kling said. Dealing with the homeless, “you have to be patient and 99 percent of them are very grateful,” he said. “They are just down on their luck.”
He minimizes his own contribution to St. John’s and gives much credit to others. “The staff is very dedicated and they work hard,” he said.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.