One would be hard put to find a facility in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that embodies the real spirit of charity as much as the Coffee Club at Catholic Social Service’s Family Service Center in the City of Chester, which is one of the poorest communities in Pennsylvania.
It is a drop-in service to the homeless and the needy that operates four mornings a week and originally was begun 10 years ago to acquaint people in need with the many services provided by the Family Service Center. Since then it has taken on a life of its own.
Serving more than a thousand cups of coffee a month plus fellowship and a place to rest, the Coffee Club also offers a public shower and laundry, recreational activities, field trips and, at nearby St. Gabriel Parish in Norwood, weekly Mass and dinner, and monthly prayer services and meals.
Everyone is welcomed, no questions asked, and they intermingle so freely that it is hard to tell who is a volunteer and who is a guest.
(See a photo gallery from a day at the Coffee Club.)
Last year, as part of National Volunteer Week, Father Anthony Orth, the pastor of St. Gabriel’s, was named CSS Volunteer of the Year for his work as volunteer chaplain at the Coffee Club.
Recently Mary Stock, a retired nurse and member of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Chester, who volunteers at the Coffee Club, was given the same honor.
“This is a very special moment,” Stock said of the CSS award, “and I’m very grateful to God and to all my friends at the Coffee Club and for everyone who took the time to come today. Thank you so much.”
Stock was chosen from among the 3,200 volunteers around the archdiocese for really going that extra mile at the Coffee Club. Clearly good things are happening there.
Father Orth first heard about the Coffee Club five years ago when he was pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Essington and started volunteering on a regular basis. When St. Margaret Mary Parish folded into St. Gabriel Parish’s with him as the pastor, he kept coming to the Coffee Club.
He also encourages his parishioners to participate and they do so enthusiastically.
“We’ve brought people from the Coffee Club over for our Sunday 12 o’clock Mass and had a brunch for them,” Father Orth said. “We’ll have them over again for our May procession.”
The parish has also provided folks from the Coffee Club with Irish stew on St. Patrick’s Day and Thanksgiving dinner.
“There is a nice spirit of food and fellowship here and everyone is welcome,” Father Orth said. “You never know who is coming.”
Chuck Fitzgerald, working behind the food counter, comes in from Media to volunteer.
“I want to give back to Social Services because they helped me in the past and I want to return the favor,” he said. “We are all God’s children and if somebody needs a hand, maybe we can help make their day a little better.”
The coffee is very good, and the food, mostly buns and pastries, is donated by some of the top bakeries in the area.
‘It’s free coffee and Danish and it goes a long way to making people feel better about themselves,” said Donald — “Donald, like in Trump,” he said — who came across the Coffee Club three months ago and has been a steady visitor ever since.
“Kate,” who comes as a guest and sometimes helps out, said, “It’s a lovely place and it is doing lovely things for people. This is home for a lot of people. I hope everyone who comes appreciates what is given. We should treat everybody the way we would want to be treated.”
Phyllis Floyd, a volunteer from St. Gabriel who goes that extra mile to help others, estimated on a typical morning 70 or 80 people will drop in. She said it was Father Orth who got her involved.
“It opened my eyes to the needs that are in this country and it makes me appreciative of what I have,” she said. “When you hear the people’s stories it is really an eye-opener and it brings me back to reality.”
Father Orth and Mary Stock got the well-deserved recognition, but it is obviously a team effort at the CSS Family Services Coffee Club.
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I work in Chester (will retire in a few days) and I was so glad to see that this effort is inspiring not only for the recipients, but also for the providers. We only live a short distance from people whose lives are totally different from ours, and we do not even think of such things. Good job!