Hector, a staff member at St. John’s Hospice in Philadelphia, helps distribute some of the 250 meals served by the outreach (part of archdiocesan Catholic Social Services) to men experiencing homelessness. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Small)

As both cold weather and a new round of COVID set in, an archdiocesan ministry to those experiencing homelessness is looking for additional help.

“We anticipate another influx of clients soon because of the financial effects of COVID,” said Elizabeth Small, community relations coordinator of St. John’s Hospice (SJH).

Operated by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS), the outreach offers residential services that enable some 250 men per year transition from homelessness to independent living. A fixture for decades in downtown Philadelphia, SJH (a beneficiary of the Catholic Charities Appeal), also provides case management, on-site nursing, daily showers and a mail room for more than 1,300 men.

The hospice continues to serve about 200 grab-and-go lunches per day, along with an estimated 50 takeaway dinners three times a week.

While the SJH team is grateful to hand out boxed meals, “it’s not like we’re providing that respite from our (former) sit-down format,” said Small.

COVID restrictions have also forced the hospice to revamp the volunteer support on which it has relied heavily, she said.

“Supply and financial strains are great,” she said, adding that the hospice now has “an extra staff member in the kitchen” to make up for on-site volunteers now precluded by pandemic precautions.

Those wishing to support the hospice – including the numerous parishes, youth groups and professional organizations that have logged decades of service there – still have several options, said Small.

Jason Virgile, kitchen manager at St. John’s Hospice in Philadelphia, hands out lunches to clients, who are facing even greater challenges as cold weather and a resurgence of COVID set in. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Small)

“We need donations for sure,” she said. “But we’re also in need of cold weather items, including new socks, gloves and hats.”

Toiletries are “always” in demand, she said, as are snacks and homemade casseroles.

SJH can also accept gently used clothing and shoes – and “prayers,” said Small, especially as the holiday season looks to be a difficult one given the rising COVID infection rates.

“Everybody’s holidays are going to be different, but how much harder it is for these guys,” she said. “They’re already working on getting their lives together, and working through major obstacles, and trying to do that during a pandemic is tough.”

The hospice’s staff and residential clients “all wear masks, all day long,” she said, admitting that “the pandemic is taking a mental toll” on everyone at SJH.

Still, said Small, the SJH family remains hopeful in the face of what will be a challenging winter.

“We’re a resilient people,” she said.

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Volunteers wishing to support St. John’s Hospice are encouraged to sign up for the SJH mailing list by emailing Elizabeth Small at esmall@chs-adphila.org. To make a donation, visit the hospice’s website.