Gospel to go: St. John the Apostle Parish expands social outreach
NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — In early 2019, Mickey Flood visited the Social Ministry Outreach building for St. John the Apostle Parish in North Richland Hills and met Colleen Cargile, the program’s coordinator.
Flood, a St. John parishioner since 1976, told Cargile, “I’d like to do something, but I don’t know what the Lord wants me to do.”
Cargile told Flood they needed new freezers. Flood looked around and said, “Colleen, you need a whole new building.”
Flood said he knew at that moment what God wanted him to do. He and his wife, Ellen Flood, helped start a campaign to raise funds for a new building, giving generously to the cause.
Fast forward to Sept. 21, 2020, and the Floods — joined by Bishop Michael Olson, Father Jack McKone, parishioners John and Eva Salazar, North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino, and Cargile — broke ground on a new building next to the church office.
The 4,000-square-foot facility will replace their current building, a former rehabilitation hospital a block north of the church.
At the groundbreaking, Bishop Olson said St. John the Apostle has always had the value of remembering the poor at their heart.
Parishioners not only alleviate the suffering of those in need, they help them get out of poverty, Bishop Olson said.
COVID-19 brings changes and more need
Since the pandemic hit in March, parishioners are finding new ways to serve those in need through the social ministry outreach.
Before March, they had 60 to 80 clients a week coming into their facility who were served by 50 volunteers. Now they help about 100 clients a week with a drive-through system staffed by fewer than a dozen volunteers.
“Caring for the poor is always part of our faith,” said Fr. McKone. “Our relationship with the Lord is enhanced. It’s our avenue, our opportunity to walk in Christ’s footsteps.”
For two hours a day Monday through Thursday, volunteers and workers at the outreach office distribute bags of meat, bread, produce, pantry items, and dairy, along with diapers, formula, and toiletries when needed.
Cargile, a St. John the Apostle parishioner and the program coordinator for the past 12 years, said COVID-19 brought new challenges because it reduced the number of services the ministry could offer but also resulted in new opportunities to partner with other churches and organizations.
Good Shepherd Parish in Colleyville has long been a partner in the ministry, focusing mainly on supplying diapers. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Keller also has contributed.
In recent months, Gateway Church in Roanoke and Compass Bank in Colleyville reached out to offer assistance, giving food and toiletries.
Cargile said, “It’s beautiful to see parishes in our diocese partner with each other, then to see it go beyond that and have ecumenical participation. I love that.”
The groups are getting involved because people want to help.
“They see our brothers and sisters who are struggling,” she said.
Before COVID-19 hit, the ministry conducted client interviews to assist people with rent and utilities, helped with prescriptions, taught English as a Second Language, and offered baby clothing and other needed items. Because of the virus, many of their older volunteers were unable to help, and organizers wanted to simplify their services while still providing much-needed help, Cargile said.
Volunteer Lynna Werline of Haslet, a parishioner and parent of St. John the Apostle Catholic School students, helped interview clients before the pandemic for the financial assistance program. She now dons a mask and helps sort and distribute food and other items.
“I find it very fulfilling,” Werline said. “All my kids have gone to school here, and it’s just a great way to be involved.”
Before the pandemic, clients could enter the building and select baby, toddler, or preschooler clothing. When assistance became exclusively drive through, Cargile discovered that Christ’s Haven for Children in Keller, which provides housing for children in need, could make good use of the items.
Hope for the future
Cargile hopes the ministry will move to the new facility next spring. Placing the building in a central location on the church campus is no accident.
“We want parishioners to know that we’re all in this together, to be able to greet them and include them,” she said.
Since its founding 55 years ago, St. John the Apostle Parish has always had a social ministry component. The food pantry outreach began in the 1980s, with Sister Patrice Sullivan, CDP.
Fr. McKone said, “The lesson of the Good Samaritan is ‘who is my neighbor?’ My neighbor is not just the person who looks like me, speaks the same language, or listens to the same music. It’s anyone we come across.”
Another big change is a transition in leadership. Cargile is handing over the reins of the coordinator position to Sharon Matsari, who comes to the area from the Netherlands where she was a social worker with a program assisting low-income families.
“Working with a charity is very different,” Matsari said. “Everyone here is so welcoming, so positive. We’re like one big family doing this together.”
At 67, Cargile plans to stay involved in the ministry while stepping back from the lead role. She came into the job the week after her youngest son started college.
“I’ve never had a better job for me,” she said. “I read the Gospel, I come here, and I live it. I can’t imagine a better way to live. In your gut, you know God has called you to it.”