by Bill McCarthy 

Good morning! Today is the last day of our first Mission Awareness month, and what an incredible month it has been. In the first daily reflection on January 2, I recounted the life of 99-year old volunteer George Thompson, who had passed away 11 days before Christmas. I marveled how George had served five Presidents of the United States, Pope John Paul II when he ate lunch at Our Daily Bread during his visit to Baltimore in 1995, and, for 26 years, the hungry of Baltimore three days a week as a volunteer at Our Daily Bread. I reflected on how George treated everyone – Presidents, the Holy Father and the hungry and the homeless – the same. He treated them with love, dignity and respect. I reflected on how my colleagues, our volunteers, and our partners demonstrated love in our work and in each personal engagement thousands of times each day.

During this month, you have received daily personal reflections from our colleagues about what our work and mission mean to them. These reflections were powerful and personally enriching to me. We also had six celebrations scheduled at programs across the Agency from Baltimore City to Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Anne Arundel counties. Due to uncooperative weather, two will be rescheduled.  The celebrations that were held were incredible! Colleagues gave beautiful personal testimony, recognized others for amazing work, listened to inspiring music, shared cake and refreshments and even did some line dancing at one reception. Each day, colleagues received spot recognition from fellow colleagues for exceptional work and for modeling our values to Love, Serve, Teach and Work for Justice.  More than 120 of us were in Annapolis on Lobby Day, meeting with elected officials to discuss programs and bills that impact those we serve. We announced our Mission in Action Award winners who will be recognized at our Annual Dinner on March 31st.

While the planned events were wonderful, it was in the quiet moments, in unplanned events and through the inspiring actions of colleagues, that I found the greatest inspiration. I want to reflect briefly on three of them – although I know there were many more. First, as we are all well aware, we have experienced incredibly cold and harsh weather this January. The coldest January on record! Our shelters are full, and the City has issued Cold Blue alerts on several occasions. The day rooms at our Weinberg Housing and Resource Center (WHRC), which regularly sleeps 275 people, were filled with cots for 60 additional people. Fifteen cots were placed in the dining room at My Sister’s Place, and My Sister’s Place Lodge made a few beds available to my friend Janet and two other women who call the bus stop at the corner of Cathedral and Mulberry Streets home. Two weeks ago around 9:00 p.m. I stopped by the WHRC and watched how additional guests settled into the day rooms for the night in a calm, orderly and respectful way. I marveled how my colleagues made room for 59 additional guests. On that day, we knew we would have up to 60 additional guests, and our colleagues at the WHRC were prepared.

The situation worsened this past Friday, when the City of Baltimore announced that the City’s Code Blue emergency shelter on Guilford Avenue would not remain open for the weekend, meaning 200 people would have to find shelter elsewhere. Without much notice but with the same love, dignity and respect, our colleagues at the WHRC provided shelter for the 60 additional planned guests as well as an additional 80 unplanned guests each night. Our overnight shelter in Baltimore, which regularly serves 275 people each night, served 415 people each night during what will certainly be one of the coldest weekends of the year.  Amazing!!

The second unplanned event, a miracle in a way, involves my friend Janet. Janet has, by choice, slept at the bus stop at the corner of Mulberry and Cathedral Streets since well before I joined Catholic Charities more than three years ago. She goes to My Sister’s Place Women’s Center during the day for services, but she inevitably returns to the bus stop at night. I try to talk to Janet every day. Since I have known Janet, she has agreed to stay overnight at a shelter three separate times – for one night each – during particularly cold nights. That changed last week. As of the time I am writing this reflection, Janet has spent the last six nights as a guest in My Sister’s Place Lodge!

The third unplanned event took place this past weekend. The tragic and senseless deaths that took place at the Columbia Mall on Saturday triggered a response by our colleagues in Child and Family Services that was incredible. Our colleagues pulled together a response team to support the parishioners and neighbors of St. John the Evangelist Parish after masses on Sunday. Many of the parishioners and neighbors frequent the mall, and many of the children and young adults in the area work at the mall as well. A team of six of our colleagues provided support and consultative services Sunday morning, and a team of 12 colleagues provided services Sunday evening. I am humbled by the response, and I know men, women and children were helped and comforted, loved and cared for.  Incredible!

You are part of a movement to improve lives and make our community better. Every day, every month and every year, people receive the help they need, lives are improved and our community is strengthened – because of you. Just as importantly, we are changed through this work. I am proud and humbled to be part of this journey with you!