Naples | It was 1968 when Judy Sullivan founded Catholic Charities in Collier County, beginning a legacy that has carried on and expanded through its 50 years, providing vital services to the needs of impoverished families, seniors and food insecure children.
That legacy can be found in the newly renovated and reopened Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center at 3174 Tamiami Trail E., Naples, which is named in honor of Sullivan, who died in 2013.
The Family Resource Center provides a variety of services including a “choice” food pantry, direct assistance for utilities and prescriptions, an Empowerment Program, refugee resettlement, services to homeless veterans, the Weekend Power Pack Food Program for children, holiday food and gift distribution, and the Undy Sunday project.
Program Director Allegra Belliard said the Family Resource Center sees everyone from young families to the elderly who are on a fixed income. Most of the clients who seek assistance are the working poor, or those who work one or more jobs but struggle to make ends meet in Naples and Collier County, an area with a high cost of living.
“Most people would not think Naples is an area where many poor people live, but these are hardworking families who need the help,” Belliard explained. “Catholic Charities is there to lend a helping hand. If we didn’t help, workers would move and many of the jobs would go unfilled. It is a reality we face each day.”
The newly renovated center, which resumed operations in May, has more room for the various programs while also adding increased privacy for clients with dedicated offices for case workers, and security which limits public access to key parts of the building.
“This is a much more welcoming environment,” Belliard said as she walked around the building. “At Catholic Charities we strive to treat everyone, no matter their reason for being here, in a dignified manner. This new building does that. It is bright and inviting, and that makes a difference in how people feel when they come through our doors.”
The new building impresses client Sally Johnson. “Everything is so nice. It makes me feel very welcome. It is so bright that it puts you in a good mood,” she said.
When entering the Family Resource Center, the lobby has a reception desk and comfortable waiting room. To the right is a conference room/classroom/staging room, which will be used for a variety of different seasonal outreach efforts.
Straight ahead is the access to the “choice” food pantry. A choice food pantry means there’s a daily selection of grocery store items on the shelves letting “shoppers” choose exactly what they want and are familiar with so there is no food waste.
The large bright room has tall ceilings and shelves of food are sectioned in different categories. Once inside, the clients are met by volunteers with a grocery cart who help explain the process and load bags of food. The room is enclosed so that noise does not carry to the perimeter where offices and other conference rooms are located.
Because the new facility has more room for storage, including industrial refrigerators and freezers, the food pantry has a food rescue aspect to it. This is where instead of throwing away fresh foods set to expire, major grocery retailers place the goods with the food pantry for immediate consumption. The food varies each day and can include fresh produce, meats and bread which can be taken in unlimited quantities.
“This food pantry is a lifesaver for me,” said Gary, who is 88. “I’m on a fixed income. It can be very difficult sometimes to go out shopping. The stores are so big and everything is so expensive. Today, I am leaving with food that will last me a long time. Thank you for everything.”
The food pantry partners with the Harry Chapin Food Bank, the Care and Share Senior Feeding Campaign, and other local organizations to ensure that everyone in need leaves with nutritious food.
A new Family Outreach Program delivers food to needy families in impoverished areas of Collier County, reaching people who cannot make the journey to the Catholic Charities facility. “This is new, thanks to our partners at the Community Foundation of Collier County. We are reaching an underserved part of the community and making a real difference.”
Another food assistance program is the Weekend Power Pack Food Program, which is done in partnership with Collier County Schools to provide pack lunches for food insecure children. With more than 1,200 homeless, hungry children attending public schools, the program provides students with food to sustain them when they are not in school.
Mary Shaughnessy, Collier County District Director of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., said the Weekend Power Pack Food Program is a vital bridge to help ensure children have a meal on weekends.
“We are adding another school and 100 more students to this program this coming school year,” Shaughnessy said. “This is a program that needs financial support, as well as volunteers to help pack the bags of food.”
Although food is important for the clients, there are many other programs that make a difference in the community. The annual Undy Sunday collection provides new underwear for school children. This program has collected and distributed more than 900,000 pairs of underwear. The collection takes place at Collier County parishes and at churches of other denominations the weekends of Aug. 4-5 and Aug. 11-12.
The new facility offers more room for life-skills classes, English as a Second Language classes, financial advice/counseling classes and much more.
To learn more about the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center in Naples or to support its important programs, please visit www.catholiccharitesdov.org, call 239-793-0059, or email allegra@catholic