Catholic Free Press

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Leominster responds to homeless families with ‘Christmas in July’

Posted By August 14, 2014 | 12:00 pm | Lead Story #1
8-15 Leo giving treeWEB

By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

LEOMINSTER – Most parishes have a “giving tree” in the weeks before Christmas.
This summer, though, St. Leo Parish celebrated “Christmas in July.”
A bare tree was placed on the front side of the church, so parishioners could take a tag, each of which had the age and clothing size of a child.
That’s because a group of people living within the city need extra help, something that’s become increasingly apparent in recent months. There are now about 110 homeless families, with a total of 150 children, being temporarily housed at Days Inn, a motel on heavily traveled Route 12.
It appears as if the entire city has embraced these strangers, some of whom are only here for a short time. (Others, though, stay much longer until other housing plans are secured.) The tree at St. Leo is just one example of how so many people working together, on a community-wide level, can make a difference.
Various individuals and organizations have been working hard, since it became apparent, a few months ago, that such a large number of homeless people were staying in the city. The individual, who is spearheading the effort to help, has asked not to be named. The families in transition were brought to Leominster because it has vacant motel rooms, and all of the available shelters are filled.
For instance, right now, there’s a coordinated effort to bring meals to the families, who don’t have access to cooking facilities. Nor do the children have much to do during the hot summer months, living in a motel bordered by highways.
Residents, though, have tried to provide. One group of volunteers organized a bus trip to bring children staying at the motel for a day of swimming at Leominster State Forest.
Once a week, the local Boys and Girls Club hosts a dinner for the residents of the motel. One night, this even included a free “flea market,” where children could “shop” for donated books.
Much of the help is being offered by church groups, or by individuals connected to a church.
“The Catholic Church, together with the rest of the community of Leominster, is responding to the painful reality of being homeless,” said Father José A. Rodríquez, pastor of Holy Family of Nazareth Parish and chaplain of Holy Trinity Evangelization Center.
Father Rodríquez said various people throughout the city are providing lunches and dinners, as well as collecting clothing, toiletries, educational materials and backpacks. He said “everybody” is doing this collectively, “so it becomes a community effort.”
Neddy Latimer, executive director of the Spanish American Center, a non-profit social service agency, said her group has been able to bring hot lunches to the motel during the week, but plans to serve two dinners to the families later this month. Some of the food is also provided by the churches.
“I know the churches are doing a great job,” she said. “Everyone is trying.”
Mrs. Latimer, however, thinks the numbers of families is probably more than anyone realizes. She said the number is always fluctuating as people are moving in and out of the motel, as they become homeless or find more permanent shelter.
“These families are coming to a caring community,” noted Mrs. Latimer, who said the meals coming from her organization are made possible by a dedicated group of volunteers. “Everyone has opened their arms and embraced (them.) It’s wonderful what I have seen.”
Msgr. John Doran, pastor of St. Leo’s, said he’s been aware of the large number of homeless families in the community for a couple of months.
“There’s just not enough shelters around for them,” he explained. “That’s why we tried to fill the gap as best we could.”