Outreach Ministry finds new home to serve community

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

“I’m the only priest in the diocese who lives in a grocery store,” said Msgr. William Cleves. But the joy radiating from him and his volunteers that run the Outreach Ministry at Holy Spirit Parish, Newport, shows that he’s far from complaining about giving up his space.

For the last two years, the food pantry of the Outreach Ministry has operated out of Msgr. Cleves’ rectory, spilling over into every aspect of his daily life. But come July, the parish is opening a new building across from the Parish Center.

The new building is in its final stages before the move on July 1. Msgr. Cleves hopes to have it open by July 6 so the parish can keep serving the community on Mondays and Tuesdays. The new building will house the food pantry, which currently provides families in need with groceries, including fresh vegetables from the parish garden. The Outreach Center also offers spiritual reading from a small mobile library box.

The parish has been looking for a place for the Outreach Center for two years, but wasn’t able to match pricing, size and availability until it decided to build its own. The parish bought the house next door on a double lot, which butts up against the parking lot. They renovated the home to be an office space, and constructed another building for the pantry, which connects to the office by means of a staircase.

The parish is excited for the move, to finally have their own space. The ministry initially started about eight blocks away in Corpus Christi Church, then rented from the First Baptist Church at 8th St. and York St. for at least 10 years, and moved to the rectory two years ago when the church changed ownership.

Currently, the food is stored in scrupulously organized racks throughout the rectory. It is then packaged into bags by 6-7 daily volunteers from the parish, and distributed in the left corner of the church by volunteers, now with careful adherence to social distancing. The volunteers guide visitors to different stations, organized according to food group, such as boxes of fresh produce, bags of bread and cereal, cleaning products and frozen foods.

Any resident of Campbell County who is in need is welcome to stop by and pick up supplies. Connie Getz, one of the head volunteers, explained that normally volunteers check IDs to ensure residence in the county, since the parish mission serves in conjunction with the government. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re serving anyone who comes by and is in need, regardless of residence.

The pantry is open Monday and Tuesday 9 a.m.– 1 p.m.

Mrs. Getz, a retired teacher, and Mike Wagner run the operation, organizing volunteers and carefully charting what supplies come in and out. Volunteers take care of the four-year-old community garden, which employs a drip irrigation system.

Mrs. Getz said they help about 300-350 families a month. That can vary from four families a day to many more. They hand out government food, community donations and donations left on the doorstep of the rectory.

The parish also communicates with Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul Society to help local families with gas, electric, rent and utility bills.

“We help pay them once every six months if they are past due and we have the funds,” said Mrs. Getz. Currently St. Vincent de Paul is providing monetary assistance while the Outreach Center concentrates on the move.

The parish as a whole has been challenged to sacrifice for the poor. As someone who has always been in academia, Msgr. Cleves said this is the first time he’s had the chance to really delve into social ministry.

“It brings us together as a parish,” he said, telling the story of the parish’s homeless friend Carl who lived on the front porch of the rectory for four years. People took care of Carl, he came to Mass every day, and the parish “kind of rallied around him — that was an eye-opener for many parishioners.”

“Ministry to the poor isn’t something optional that you add on top of what you’re already doing — it’s part of the core,” said Msgr. Cleves. “Here’s how it becomes real.”

With supplies sprawling into Monsignor’s kitchen, garage and taking over his basement library, Msgr. Cleves and his congregation have learned to embody the charism of joy from sacrifice. When asked about giving up some 3,000 books from his library to make room for the pantry, he said, “People will be able to read them at St. Ann’s Mission, where I donated them. We all have to give up something, and the needs of the poor are certainly much more urgent than my desire for books.”

“This is the work of many hands and it pulls us together,” he said.

The Outreach Ministry building hopes to open by July 6 after their move the week before. There, they will continue the good work that has been done by those determined to provide for their community.