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Wall of crosses, shelves of bread speak of Caritas’ caring

A wall of crosses adjacent to a wall with shelves of bread greets people beside the reception area at Caritas Outreach Ministries in Spokane. 

Supporting churches and individuals donated the crosses as a visible, unspoken reminder that the help people receive there is from the caring and love of the faith community.

The Latin word, “caritas,” is “charity” in English, equivalent to the Greek word, “agape,” which means “unlimited loving-kindness to others.”

Everyone who comes in receives two loaves of bread and a package of sweets donated by two supermarkets.  The bread and sweets line three tiers of shelves on the wall.

Sue Miller and Kaye DeLong
Sue Miller and Kaye DeLong serve people at Caritas.

Kaye DeLong, executive director, said her role is to pick up the phone, make a call and network to help meet specific needs of people who come in the three days a week Caritas Outreach Ministries is open.

Its small office, food bank and necessities bank at 2929 N. Monroe are staffed by 21 volunteers from a coalition of 14 supporting churches in Northwest Spokane. 

The center is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

During those hours, Kaye has four appointment times to meet with people to assist with their needs.  Sue Miller, coordinator of Volunteer Chore services, contacts the 18 chore volunteers to meet requests of people.

Volunteers assist with welcoming people and running the food and necessities banks.

Caritas started in 1993 to provide a “Christian caring” presence in North Spokane.  It originally served people who live from Wellesley north to Mead and Chatteroy.  Those communities are no longer in the service area. 

In 2005, Caritas absorbed OMEGA, a similar ecumenical outreach ministry serving North Central Spokane. 

Caritas now serves people who are “the working poor” who live from Montgomery north to Hawthorne Rd. and out Waikiki Rd. to Nine Mile Falls.  It serves that area from Division west to the Spokane River.

When Caritas started, it was in Assumption Catholic Church.  It moved in 1999 to Immanuel Baptist Church and in 2009 to its present location on Monroe.

South of Montgomery, Our Place Outreach Ministries, started in 1987 by Benedictine Sister Meg Sass—who also started OMEGA and Caritas—serves West Central Spokane. 

Kaye said Our Place serves more people who are on welfare or disability programs. A Rogers High School graduate, Kaye knows the neighborhood.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in education at Eastern Washington University in 1978 and a master’s in counseling and psychology at Gonzaga University in 1983.

Before working at Caritas, she worked 13 years as an adoption social worker with New Hope Child and Family Agency.

Kaye said Caritas reaches out to individuals and families in the neighborhoods of the supporting congregations to address needs that are often “unseen or neglected” with financial, material and volunteer help.

She told of recently meeting with someone who lost his job of 25 years in a specialty trade.  She made calls through her network to find opportunities for him.

“In one family who recently came, the father worked for a fast food restaurant and the mother for a department store chain,” Kaye said.  “One lost his job and found it hard to find another job.  Most work minimum-wage jobs.”

Kaye meets with just four people each day Caritas is open because, even though needs may be greater, she has time to work with only a few. 

She wants to give each “a chunk of time” so she can learn about what is going on in their lives and what their needs are.  Then she helps the people draft a plan of action to meet their needs.

Some don’t realize that it just takes a phone call to be on track to earn a GED, she said.

Some may need oil for heating.  With the cost now $4 a gallon, she can arrange for the delivery of only 100 gallons. 

With utility assistance, she used to be able to offer to pay the last $50 of a bill, because there were other sources for utility assistance.  Now Caritas may assist with $200 and negotiate with Avista to give the family six weeks more of utilities.  Private donations and a grant from Avista help provide for utility assistance.

Kaye helped a carpenter who came in after he had cut and seriously injured his hand be accepted at the Washington State University engineering school.

“I facilitate things to happen with a phone call,” she said, telling of a recent call from someone upset about bird dung accumulating outside a business. 

She called and asked someone in her network who arranged to clean it up.

Such success stories are part of her reward.

“I want people to leave here better than when they came because of our assistance, guidance and hope.

Caritas’ small food bank is part of the Second Harvest network.  Supporting churches also donate food directly.

The Volunteer Chore program helps people with light housekeeping, raking, shoveling and lawn care, said Sue.

“We want to help keep people in their homes,” she said.

Churches that work together to make a difference in the lives of “God’s children” who are their neighbors are Assumption Catholic, Country Homes Christian, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox, Immanuel Church, Messiah Lutheran, New Beginnings Christian, New Hope Christian Reformed, Pilgrim Lutheran, Prince of Peace Lutheran, Rock of Ages Christian Fellowship, St. Andrew’s Episcopal, St. David’s Episcopal, Shadle Park Presbyterian and Spokane Friends churches.

The churches help provide funds and volunteers to assist families in crisis needing utility and heat assistance, transportation, food and necessities.  Each church contributes what it can. 

Volunteer, who come primarily from the churches, supplement the work of three part-time staff—Kaye, Sue and a bookkeeper.

The Catholic Foundation has also provided grants for four years.

For Christmas, Caritas contacts families they have helped to assess their need, rather than have them apply.

“We give the adults age-appropriate gifts to give to their children,” she said.

Sometimes her assistance comes through a prayer with a person who comes in, not for proselytizing, but a prayer that expresses the “caritas” or “love” from which the assistance and caring emerges.

Kaye added that the aim is to try not to give repeated help to families so they don’t build dependency. 

Instead she seeks to connect people so they are empowered with the tools to make the contacts they need.

For information, call 326-2249.