STAMFORD—An interest in helping those in need has always been a principle which Catholics have followed, born of an innate desire to imitate Christ. Whether it is donating to the homeless, feeding the hungry, or ministering to the oppressed, parishioners from the Diocese of Bridgeport consistently answer the call. And it was that call – and an awareness of those underserved – that prompted the founding of the Ministry for the Homeless, the Hungry and People in Need at St. Bridget of Ireland Church in Stamford.
A year ago last November, when Deacon Ernie Jeffers made a routine stop at a Stamford park to offer leftover sandwiches from a parish event to the homeless, he was amazed to hear one man say it was the first meal he had eaten in several days, one “better than any Thanksgiving feast.” After sharing the experience with his congregation in a Thanksgiving homily, Deacon Jeffers hoped the people of St. Bridget could reflect on how fortunate they were and consider the needs of others. Little did he know what would come of that message.
“There was an overwhelming response from the parishioners asking how they could help,” the deacon said. “Afterward, Father Ed [Pastor Edward McAuley] thought this would be the perfect time to start a new ministry in our parish.”
Now, over a year later, this ministry has expanded to include nine initiatives, a mission statement, monthly meetings and 35 active members led by Father McAuley, Deacon Jeffers and Ministry Coordinator Rich Capraro.
“This is the work of the Holy Spirit,” said Father McAuley. “We have selfless and giving people who are generous with their time and talent. It’s not about them. They are answering the call of Jesus.”
After a parish survey was distributed several years ago through an initiative of the diocesan synod, Father McAuley said that the “loudest call was a desire to help those in need.” Though St. Bridget had previously engaged in such community projects as the Thanksgiving Clothing Drive and the Giving Tree at Christmas, this small parish of 600 families has since embraced a much larger appeal, now partnering with local service agencies to minister to a greater number of people in the Stamford area.
Last spring, the ministry joined with the Salvation Army in a three-week “Undie Sunday” drive, collecting hundreds of diapers and pairs of underwear for less fortunate children. During a Christmas in July program, parishioners donated over 1,000 items to assist the New Covenant Center and Domestic Violence Crisis Center. An annual parish coat drive, a weekly food donation prepared by a local restaurant and a joint venture with Malta House to assist pregnant, unwed mothers are just several more endeavors that this ministry has undertaken – and found great success with – thanks in large part to its coordinator’s vision.
“Rich Capraro has a wonderful philosophy that our ministry has something for everybody, and it is so true,” Deacon Jeffers said. “They are living the call to be Christ in this world for all of our brothers and sisters.”
One of the greatest projects, Deacon Jeffers said, is a combined effort with Congregation Agudeth Shalom called “Two Faiths, One Heart” in which members of the synagogue joined with parishioners at St. Bridget’s to collect canned goods for Thanksgiving.
“With Rabbi David Cohen, we gathered food for 800+ homeless families and met at the synagogue,” said Fr. McAuley, who initiated this project in conjunction with Inspirica, a social service organization in Stamford which caters to the homeless. “We packed and loaded SUVs for delivery. Without exception, these people are touched, moved, and so grateful.”
Father McAuley added that the tremendous gratitude from those they help often extends to personal notes of appreciation, with comments such as “This is the greatest generosity we’ve ever received” and “We are grateful you thought to help others in our community.”
“That’s who we are. That’s our identity,” he said. “The ministry opened up so many opportunities to show who we are – a small parish with a great big heart.”
After recently marking their one-year anniversary, the Ministry for the Homeless, the Hungry and People in Need continues to look for ways to grow and give people an outlet for service, a way to continue the work of Christ.
“Our best hopes were fulfilled with this ministry,” Father McAuley said. “The Holy Spirit is moving at St. Bridget!”
By Emily Clark