Summer is a time for sunshine, celebration and at St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia, service, as homeless families from around the city are welcomed and served by parishioners.

Many of the homeless people lead single-parent families, and the prospect of being able to feed their children, let alone themselves, is a difficult one. Thanks to the efforts of St. Raymond’s pastor, Father Chris Walsh and parishioner Sharron Gaymon, however, the parish along with other service organizations in the city’s Mount Airy section is providing a helping hand for families trying to get back on their feet.

From July 1 to Aug. 31, volunteers are contributing their talents to provide homeless and low-income families with healthy meals while the parish gives them shelter at St. Raymond’s former convent.

“We endeavor to give them well-balanced evening meals and snacks,” said Gaymon, who works to coordinate the program. Through the help of seven families consisting of 17 people, the dedicated parishioners supply the cooked meats, starches, vegetables and fruit to make the lives of their guests brighter.

For two of the program’s eight weeks, some volunteers will even be serving as hosts for the new families.

“Our parishioners are fantastic,” said Gaymon. “I sometimes have to turn people away who want to cook because we have too many volunteers!”

Homelessness inPhiladelphiais not a new issue. According to a 2012 study, 588 individuals were living on the city streets without shelter.

Although Catholic Social Services runs as many as seven charitable agencies dedicated to reducing this number, many homeless people continue to endure difficult living conditions in the face of sweltering summers and the biting chill of winters. Unfortunately, many families may find themselves homeless due to natural disasters, unforeseen medical costs, or economic difficulties. And although the city of Philadelphia invests millions in making temporary survival easier, keeping them off the streets is the first step toward permanent recovery.

While St. Raymond is assisting families with healthy food and housing during the summer, the parish’s partner in the homeless outreach program, the Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network, establishes long-term recovery strategies.

The organization provides affordable housing to struggling families as well as providing the parents with effective job and people skills in order to earn a better living.

Through the help of volunteers no different than those of St. Raymond Parish, families are provided with a support system to assist the life-changing transition from homelessness to independence.

St. Raymond’s parishioners clearly are eager to help. The parish website heartwarmingly refers to their new guests as “brothers and sisters.”

Acknowledging the humanity of the homeless people, giving them a single lovingly-prepared meal and providing these struggling men, women and children a chance for equality in the city of brotherly love can give them hope for tomorrow.

“The best part about this program,” said Gaymon, “is meeting new families and giving them the chance to be happy.”

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Onix Perez-Mas is a student at La Salle University and an intern at CatholicPhilly.com.