Church dedicates bigger, more efficient Outreach Center today

One house contains clothes on the back porch. Inside, four women volunteers work in an office that could more adequately fit two. The house contains about 12 freezer units that practically drip utility funds because each cooler runs on its own.

Not messy but crammed, the house at the corner of Kay Circle and Box Road is nearing an upgrade.

Today, St. Anne Catholic Church will dedicate its new Outreach Center up the hill from the old one. Bishop J. Kevin Boland of the Diocese of Savannah, pastor of St. Anne from 1983-95, will officiate.

The new building will consolidate the house’s rooms and purposes. Intake offices will provide more privacy. A walk-in freezer/cooler will eliminate the need for multiple refrigerators. The projected move-in date is Oct. 11.

The center began small: in 1981 in the rectory, the clergy housing. Then in 1997, the outreach center moved to the house on the Box Road. From St. Anne’s perspective, the expansion is in keeping with a Bible verse: “The poor you will always have with you.”

At four times the size of the house, the new building measures almost 6,000 square feet.

The Knights of Columbus bought the property about four years ago. “They had intended to build a Knights Hall on it, but when it became obvious we needed a new outreach center, they sold the land to us,” said the Rev. Gerard Schreck, pastor of St. Anne since 1995.

In return, the Knights — a Catholic fraternal order — will receive the house on Box Road for their use.

A 2007 capital campaign for the church and St. Anne Pacelli School enabled the church to expand anew its outreach to the poor.

“As a result of good management, we realized we had the money to build a new facility,” Schreck said.

The total cost was $820,000. About $225,000 collectively came from a few local family foundations not associated with St. Anne.

Help requests rising

With 1,850 families, St. Anne Church, founded in 1961, is one of the largest in the Diocese of Savannah.

With a history of helping people in need, St. Anne once had a sign in a previous outreach location: “We can’t feed the world but the people who get in our path are who we are responsible for. Be compassionate.” The first outreach director was a woman named Margaret Webber.

Calls some in steadily all day. Mondays are the busiest. Since the recession began about three years ago, the number of requests have risen, according to current director Donna Bushaw.

“We’re definitely seeing more people,” said Bushaw, who oversees a team of about 40 volunteers, most of whom are retired.

“We’re seeing a lot more people from the middle class — people who have been laid off.” With local unemployment hovering around 10 percent, more requests are coming for utility assistance, she added.

The largest contingent served: single mothers. Most clients are referred to the center by the Department of Family and Children Services. A majority of the food comes from the local food bank. With the holidays approaching, the outreach center has a deadline of Oct. 15 for Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets.

Bishop Boland praised the wider community for seeing a need for the center.

“This is a very significant dedication not only because it represents the outreach expression of the people of St. Anne but also because of the distinct interest of other parts of the community,” Boland said in a statement to the Ledger-Enquirer this week. “They want to help the development. The support throughout the community in the building of the facility gives it an ecumenical flavor which is very healthy, from a spiritual point of view.

“The needs of the poor cross all denominational lines,” he continued. “Prayerfully in the blessing of the building we want to especially be mindful that all who enter these doors are treated with the utmost respect and dignity, because no matter what their ethnic background we are all part of God’s family.”

“The beauty of this program,” Webber told the Columbus Enquirer in 1983, “is that when our funds run low, I don’t get too worried. We’ve never been broke. Food is always there. The Holy Spirit just keeps pouring it back in. The more we do, the more we have.”

Though the current house seems to burst at the seems, readying for its move, it still has room for encouraging bric-a-brac. One sign says “Believe.” Another: “Courage.”

“This is such an important part of our church,” Schreck said on a recent tour. “It’s for anyone in need of help. For us, the proclamation of the Gospel is to provide and care for people in need.”

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