Distributing hope, food and shelter: Catholic Charities’ Casa San Francisco meets a need for emergency food and shelter in Milton


For The Dialog


MILTON – When Gail left her professional job in the Northwest to care for her ailing mother, she did not realize her world was about to fall apart.

Back in Wilmington, Gail began drinking, and drinking, and drinking. She became an alcoholic and soon found herself on the streets. Now she is working her way back to self-sufficiency, partly with the help of Casa San Francisco. She spoke on the condition that only her first name be used.

“There is hope,” Gail, 53, told a breakfast promoting Casa San Francisco in recognition of Homeless Hunger and Awareness Week

In an interview, Gail said she’s come to realize that her road back to self-sufficiency will “take time.” It’s not only being homeless but also needing an apartment, rehab and a job all rolled into one. It doesn’t happen all at once. Casa provides “the time to take care of these necessities without have to worry about a place to live. It’s almost like home.”

Casa San Francisco operates a homeless shelter and two food assistance programs as part of the Diocese of Wilmington’s Catholic Charities department. The shelter’s goal is to help residents find jobs or other sources of revenue and affordable housing opportunities, allowing them to become self-sufficient. The staff works with governmental agencies and drug, alcohol, mental health and other agencies.


Food programs

The food programs are an emergency food pantry, which has had a dramatic increase in recent months, and the Hope Food Cooperative distribution program in conjunction with the Food Bank of Delaware for households that meet eligibility guidelines. HOPE provides at least $20 worth of food once per month for a fee of $5 a month.

Cutbacks in the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, have led to a more than 33 percent increase in help from the emergency pantry. Woolf said the program had averaged about 45 families a month until two months ago; now more than 70 families are assisted each month.

A key concept for Casa San Francisco is that its services are delivered “in a homey atmosphere,” said Melinda Woolf, program manager. “Because it has such a homey atmosphere and helps take care of people’s basic needs, it creates a rapport with the people it serves.”

The Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, N.Y., founded Casa San Francisco in 1981 through the diocese’s Migrant Ministries as an extension of their work with rural agricultural workers. They used a two-story house at 127 Broad St., where Casa San Francisco remains today. The program became part of Catholic Charities in 1989.

Three people are on the Casa staff; they are assisted by some 40 volunteers.

Need for shelter

While the building has had several renovations over the years, it retains its home-like atmosphere. Two bedrooms, one for men and the other for women, each house five twin beds. The house has two bathrooms, one for men and one for women. As many as 10 people can be housed at one time, and residents may stay for 30 days.

About 140 people stay at the shelter each year, Woolf said, but the need is far greater. For each person admitted five others are turned away.

Program manager Maggie Glick coordinates residents’ schedules to help them make doctors’ and other appointments, and job training or rehabilitation program sessions that each individual’s case requires.

She networks with governmental and other nonprofit agencies and organizations to see that the full range of each resident’s needs are met. That can include a wide range of services and benefits including job training, education, drug or alcohol addiction rehabilitation and support groups, public assistance programs they may be eligible for, and medical and mental health care.

Casa San Francisco volunteer Sheila Naughton, left, and case manager Maggie Glick, right, prepare a bag of groceries to be distributed at the Casa’s food cooperative in Milton. Demand for food from Casa San Francisco emergency pantry is up due to cutbacks in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. (The Dialog/Gary Morton)

When residents leave, she asks them to stay in touch if they are not involved in aftercare programs. She tells them, “I need to know you are safe.” Such an approach “is part of my Christianity – being a caring, nurturing person,” Glick said. “The Holy Spirit guides me to do that.”


Making a difference

Clients of both the residential program and the food assistance programs appreciate that approach. Desiree Downs, the food program manager, recalled meeting a man named Mark outside a Goodwill store last month. She learned he was planning to spend the “$6 in my pocket” to buy food at a grocery store and told him about the Hope Food Cooperative. He enrolled, and later that day sent Downs an email thanking her.

“That $6 wasn’t going to go far,” he wrote. “The two bags of food that you provided for $5 should have me eating into next week and beyond. Know that you made a real difference in my life today.”