Last week, Kurt Bartley, the executive director of Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs, invited me over for lunch at the soup kitchen. I think this is a tour many of you should go on to better understand what is happening at the facility and with Catholic Charities overall.
They serve an average of 450 people a day with 25 to 30 volunteers. Kudos to the companies that have sent volunteers, such as Cheyenne Mountain Resort, Ent Federal Credit Union, the El Pomar Fellows, The Broadmoor, Fleet Co. and all the military installations, for helping out.
They are out of space at the Marian House, which 20 years ago was a convent. It is a bustling place with volunteers in red aprons sorting food and replenishing the food line. The guests – they are not called clients – have only 30 minutes to eat. They can eat as much as they want, but have to be out of there in half an hour.
Thomas Corsentino is the director of the Marian House and really knows his stuff. He explained that the guests are “sometimes good people in difficult circumstances.”
The part of the tour that really struck me was the family area, which is down a narrow hallway from the main dining area. Here were young mothers and families with young children who may be able to afford rent, but not food. Now, I have a 5- and 3-year-old and there were some kids the same age in this room. It hurt me to see these kids having to utilize the Marian House services, but at the same time, I am glad the option is available to those in need.
Another thing that is bothersome is that the Marian House is growing at 6 percent annually. Does this mean our homeless population and poverty level is growing at 6 percent annually? I hope not.
Some of the statistics (and they have a lot of data) about their guests is that 60 percent to 65 percent live in hotels or rent an apartment or home. Between 35 percent and 40 percent are considered homeless and live on the streets, in shelters or in cars. These people are the working poor, families and limited-income seniors, and some have physical and mental disabilities.
The tour made me realize the depth of the substance abuse and its effect on the homeless in our region. We are fortunate to have great agencies like Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and Urban Peak that work to address the needs of the down-and-out population.
Another group that deserves kudos is the donors to the Marian House.
Whole Foods, Safeway, King Soopers, Wal-Mart, the Center for Creative Leadership, Starbucks, The Broadmoor, Antlers Hilton, Poor Richards, Great Harvest and the El Paso Club donate food to the organization. Without them, there would be some hungry people in Colorado Springs. Thank you.
The Marian House is open 365 days a year. In 2004, it served 191,506 meals to 158,172 guests. There were 4,017 children served.
Those are some pretty big numbers. And with that many guests you can imagine there might be some neighborhood issues. The Marian House folks care about the neighborhood and do their best to keep the grounds and surrounding area clean. They do not tolerate drugs, alcohol, bad language or inappropriate behavior.
As I related earlier, they are out of space. The cramped narrow halls simply cannot hold the traffic and volume they are realizing. A capital campaign will be starting soon to build a commercial kitchen and dining hall that will accommodate 150 to 175 people. This will improve the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of the programs.
Bill Tutt explained to me that the support from the Department of Defense installations in Colorado Springs is the best anywhere in the world. This became even more apparent to me when Corsentino and Bartley explained that on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Fort Carson folks serve as volunteers. Our military supporting the less fortunate in our community is a great thing.
Call Kurt Bartley at 866-6425 to arrange a tour. When I got back to the office and discussed this tour with some staffers, we decided to set up a day the CSBJ staff can volunteer at the soup kitchen.
Lon Matejczyk is publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at lon.matejczyk@csbj.com or 329-5202.