Sister Katheleen Kelemen, RSHM
St. Margaret’s Center is a social services program of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, Inc. Locatedin Lennox, California, St. Margaret’s Center provides emergency and supportive assistance programs to more than 10,000 low income and homeless persons in the Los Angeles International Airport area which includes the five cities of Lennox, Inglewood, Hawthorne, El Segundo and Westchester.
St. Margaret’s mission of “providing relief, dignity and support to low income persons in crisis and to assist individuals through case management and skills development to become more self-sufficient and to achieve economic security,” has remained the same since its foundation in 1987. However, the Center’s programs and services have grown and evolved to respond to the ever increasing needs of the communities served. These services include: food, shelter, rent and utility assistance, immigration, counseling, job search and resume writing assistance, information and referral, mailing address and message center for homeless persons, adult education, tutoring, various other programs and an annual Christmas Program for families with children.
The number of clients accessing services at St. Margaret’s Center has increased 20% over the past several years, as the economy has worsened, and food, housing, gasoline and other costs of living have increased at a phenomenal pace. Many new clients are seeking emergency services assistance for the first time in their lives, a direct reflection of this difficult economic time, a 12% unemployment rate in California, and the overwhelming statistic that 6 million in California live below the federal poverty level.
This past year, 2010-11, the Center’s staff, consisting of 3 full-time and 2 part-time paid members and approximately 50 volunteers, served 12,194 unduplicated persons, a record number. St. Margaret’s Center has been responding to the needs of the community for almost a quarter century, and the need has never been greater than at present.
I first began “helping out” at St. Margaret’s Center at the end of September 2008, as a volunteer in the Food Pantry 3 hours per week. I was in a period of transition, having just recently completed 4 years as Director and Coordinator of Casa Guadalupe, our Assisted Living Residence for our elder sisters, and not yet involved in a new full-time ministry.
In October 2008, St. Margaret’s Center moved from its original location on Hawthorne Blvd., in Lennox, to its current location on Inglewood Ave. The week prior to the long-anticipated move, I helped pack and label boxes that were destined for St. Margaret’s Center’s new location, a renovated mini-mall!
“Seeing” me around so much that week, Mary Agnes Erlandson, the Director of St. Margaret’s Center, and its guiding inspiration since its beginning in 1987, invited me to participate in the Center’s annual Christmas Program at Hollywood Park Race Track. My job for the day of the Christmas Program was the “Toy Room” for 7-9 year olds. From that moment on, I fell in love with the Center and knew that I wanted to be more involved in the life and mission of St. Margaret’s.
Sr. Cathy Minhoto, RSHM, Sr. Eileen Tuohy, RSHM, Sr. Kathleen Kelemen, RSHM, and Sr. Alice Molina, RSHM.
What impressed me the most about the Christmas Program was simply “the way” the program is organized. St. Margaret’s Center spreads Christmas joy by directly involving parents in the gift-giving process. As the families arrive, volunteers take the children to the party area where children are entertained with music, games, facepainting, arts & crafts, food, and a visit and picture with Santa. Meanwhile the parents, each with a personal volunteer escort, are taken to toy rooms where they choose 3 toys for each of their children under 13 years of age. Their personal “shopping” escort then takes them to the wrapping area where another group of volunteers wrap the gifts they have chosen. Tags are provided so that the parents can sign a gift tag for each toy. The toys are then placed in large black plastic trash bags so the parents can take them home easily and without prying little eyes seeing the beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts. The gifts are then given to the children on Christmas Day, allowing the parents to become the “giver” of the gifts that they selected for their children.
Providing a way that the parents can “shop” and “choose” the gifts themselves spoke volumes to me of how much respect St. Margaret’s Center’s staff has for the clients, and how fully committed they are to their mission of providing relief, dignity and support. At that moment, I knew that my “time of transition” had led me to where I wanted to remain in ministry. St. Margaret’s Center appeared to be a good fit with our RSHM mission and so, with not only the verbal support but the financial support of the RSHM as well, I was able to offer my services to St. Margaret’s Center.
Gradually, over these past 3 years, my commitment has grown from my original 3 hours in the Food Pantry one afternoon a week, to several days a week and many, many, more hours. In addition to doing a “little bit” of everything and assisting wherever there is a need, my primary and greatest responsibilities include:
- Overseeing Utilities Assistance Program.
- Clerical support for: Inglewood Tenant Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) Program for seniors, the disabled, and Veterans; Inglewood Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG) Program; Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP); and, Food Stamp Program.
- Christmas Program Volunteer Coordinator: scheduling and assigning duties to approximately 350 volunteers for the annual Christmas Program for over 1100 children and their parents.
St. Margaret’s Center provides me the opportunity to transcend personal and cultural boundaries. It stretches me in ways that I have not been stretched before, requiring me to use many of the same gifts and talents that I have used in other ministries, but in a uniquely different setting, under uniquely different circumstances. I feel blessed to be at St. Margaret’s Center because it allows me to live out our RSHM charism, “…that all may have life and have it to the full.”