Eight years ago, under the leadership of the pastor, a humble idea for an outreach ministry in our area began at Mary Help of Christians Parish. At that time, a missionary helping at the Parish was asked to develop this idea and lead the initiative to find volunteers within the Parish Community to bring this idea to life. With prayer and teamwork, and with the help of about three or four faithful volunteers, the Outreach Ministry became a reality.
The Outreach Ministry of Mary Help planned their first mission and took to the streets. The dynamic foursome of volunteers carried three chairs, some food, donated clothing and a sat on the outskirts of the Salesian campus waiting for those in need. Only a few people came by and they were left to try to figure out a new strategy to reach more people. Not long after, another volunteer joined the ministry - making it five - to move forward with this truly grassroots operation.
Next, the Outreach Ministry ventured to St. Francis of Assisi Church in Seffner to participate in an outreach effort for the greater community. Once again, they sat waiting for people to come, but not many came. Eventually, they courageously went into the woods and found a few groups of homeless that needed help. Offering help when it was needed most, they provided food and drinks for these individuals. When this mission was complete, the Outreach Ministry of Mary Help continued searching for their next mission location.
Going from place to place in the Tampa Bay Area, they met and ministered to many individuals in need in various locations throughout the city. They knew if they wanted to reach as many people as possible, they would need one central location that could be promoted as the official site. As they put their heads together, the Catholic Charities site on Busch Boulevard was found. Hoping to use this location as their formal site for Outreach Ministry, they petitioned for permission to set up on Catholic Charities’ property. They were granted permission to use Catholic Charities as their official site by the Bishop at the Diocese of St. Petersburg, and this site is still used today.
The small but mighty group of volunteers were given an opportunity to use one of the old MHC Parish buses to transport the donations to the site once a month on Saturdays. They filled the old bus with sandwiches, chips, lemonade, and some toiletries to distribute to those in need. As the ministry grew, they provided clothing and hot chocolate during cold months, and Rosaries to those that needed them. Later, more volunteers joined, and the ministry began to take form. They offered gift cards from McDonalds, Publix, and Walmart to the homeless individuals and families they encountered.
Outreach Ministry’s ongoing growth led to a need for more storage space for the increasing food and clothing donations. MHC provided basement space that Outreach could use for that purpose. Many parishioners continued to offer generous assistance each month allowing the Outreach Ministry to continue their mission.
Although the old bus was used for quite a few trips, eventually, it finally made its last run. It was on that trip that Fr. Steve Dumais, SDB performed the bus’mechanical last rites. The Outreach Ministry made an “All Call” for trucks praying that some generous people would step forward to help them. The wonderful Knights of Columbus of MHC Parish stepped up to the plate. People couldn’t stop talking about what a blessing it was to see so many lives touched by not only the food and clothing, but also the way the Parish Community pulled together to help Outreach continue.
The Outreach Ministry continued to flourish until Corona virus hit the Tampa Bay Area. The Bishop sent word that all the churches needed to close and limit gatherings due to the safer at home mandate. Until the Outreach Ministry was later deemed an essential service, they were temporarily shut down due to the state restrictions and for the safety and health of all. Despite the challenges of COVID within our local community, the need for assistance grew larger. Our Deacon and two Knights of Columbus members had it on their hearts to come together to serve desperate families in need of food. They filled bags with food donations which were made available as the parish saw a high increase of families in need coming to ask for assistance.
Today, as the community opens slowly, and COVID challenges are still a part of life, the MHC Outreach Ministry is once again operating in front of Catholic Charities in Tampa (social distancing, and masks in place). They continue to distribute much needed non-perishable food, toiletries, fresh sandwiches, diapers, formula, water, and gift cards to those in need. Clothing is not distributed at this time due to the pandemic, but the Outreach Ministry ‘clothes’ the needy in prayer. This is a true embodiment of Christ in the corporal works of mercy.
The Outreach Ministry is led by a humble married couple, that are faithful parishioners, and missionary volunteers of over 8 years - Bob and Marge. They point out all of those that were instrumental in helping start this wonderful ministry saying ‘Early in the ministry we were led by a very devoted missionary named Elisa; She came to Mary Help to assist Father Steve Ryan, SDB with laying the foundation for Outreach’, ‘Deacon Ed has been the God send angel and the volunteers that come each month are cherished individuals. The Knights of Columbus have become a guiding force to make sure the Outreach continues. All we can add is that we have been blessed and many thanks to all that work so hard to feed our fellow brothers and sisters!’
The mission of the Outreach Ministry of MHC is attributed to Bob and Marge and all of the founding volunteers.