St. Benedict's and Episcopal neighbors team up to help refugee family

Fri, Jun 24th 2016 06:00 am
Staff Reporter
St. Benedict ­Volunteers from St. Benedict Parish and St. Peter Episcopal Church work to clean, furnish and decorate a home for Somali refugees. (Patrick J. Buechi/Staff)
St. Benedict ­Volunteers from St. Benedict Parish and St. Peter Episcopal Church work to clean, furnish and decorate a home for Somali refugees. (Patrick J. Buechi/Staff)

Catholic and Episcopal parishes have followed the example of their shepherds by joining forces to help the needy. Now, a family of Somali refugees will have a home in Buffalo, thanks to the work of the two congregations.

In June, St. Benedict Roman Catholic Parish and St. Peter Episcopal Church, both in Eggertsville, joined together to clean, furnish and decorate a West Side apartment for a refugee family being placed through Journey's End, one of four resettlement programs in Buffalo.

The idea came shortly after Bishop Richard J. Malone and Bishop R. William Franklin issued a joint letter asking that the poor not be left out of the Buffalo economic resurgence. The December 2014 letter stated, "At this time not everyone is benefitting. Blacks and Hispanics still live in poverty in greater proportion than do other groups in our population. Children still go to bed hungry. Jobs and security elude too many families. And because some are left out and locked out, the rest of us are poorer. We fail to benefit as much as we might from this new golden age."

Diana Leiker, from St. Peter's, held a dinner for her English as Second Language students, and invited her neighbors from St. Benedict's to join them. Following a joint prayer service, Deacon William Hynes invited Deacon Tom Tripp to join St. Benedict's Salt and Light Committee that works for justice and peace.

"That's where we started to talk about this," Deacon Tripp said. "Coming back from the Salt and Light, the St. Benedict people were energized to do something, so I suggested a refugee ministry project. We have done it already, four times, so they picked up on it."

St. Benedict's already collected home goods for Catholic Charities, and St. Peter's had done a few projects with Journey's End. The partnership seemed to be a perfect fit.

"Both Churches have responded tremendously to our needs," said Deacon Tripp.

 "I was very overwhelmed by the donations, added Maura MacDonald, from St. Benedict. "May was a collection month - collection of items, collection of money. People are so generous. Parishioners gave from their existing supplies and bought brand new things. Little kids were giving their toys."

St. Ben's collected $1,000, which they put into Tops gift cards for groceries. St. Peter's collected money for rent.

"I've heard Bishop Malone say, 'When bishops write letters, they always feel like they're pitching and nobody's catching.' Here is an example of where we're running with the word," said Deacon Hynes.

The big move took place June 11, a warm Saturday that defied the predicted thunderstorms. Thirty volunteers from both churches worked with Journey's End to do a "Home Again" - clean, furnish and decorate an apartment for the family. They cleaned the yard and trimmed bushes, hung drapes and fixed tables, they even hauled a couch over the second floor balcony with the help of two contractors across the street that were working on their own house.

"We're talking on our hands and knees scrubbing the floors, cleaning the toilets," MacDonald said. "We had three different crews."

Four bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, a dining room and a kitchen now have everything needed for a family of six to live happily.

"The really cool thing is we're never going to meet them. We're doing this on faith," MacDonald said. "We're never going to meet these people, but we're still helping. That's the cool thing."

What began as a church project, became a community project as the other Somalis in the neighborhood pitched in.

"They jumped right in," said Andrea Cammarata from Journey's End. "There're kids down there planting flowers, and the father got the clippers. They got out of their houses when they saw what we were doing. When they understood what was going on, they began to help. That was really a joy to see that."

The St. Vincent de Paul Society donated the use of a truck and driver for the day.

 "This is the Holy Spirit. That's how the Holy Spirit works when you do God's will," said Deacon Tripp.

For Cammarata, this is just a normal day at work.

"We work with schools, churches and civic groups," she said. "They typically spend a month collecting items they need to settle a family into a home. When a group works together, they can provide much more than we can as an agency. And they lovingly provide a home for an arriving family. When the families arrive and they see what is in the apartment, they are overwhelmed. They cannot believe that all the items in the house belong to them now."

Buffalo sees 2,000 refugees each year. Maybe 20 will receive this kind of care from their new neighbors.

"Not every family gets a Home Again. We try to do as many as we can, but some families aren't so lucky," Camarrata said.


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