A Holy Cross Service Center volunteer attaches tags to donated clothes at the thrift store. (Jesús Miguel)

Center lives out Gospel of Matthew in dire times

Indiantown  |  The village of Indiantown is less than 35 miles from the booming metropolis of Palm Beach, but the two communities are worlds apart. 

The atmosphere of Indiantown is decidedly rural, slower in pace, with less flash and wealth than its nearby neighbor. The village has only about 7,000 permanent residents, and its estimated household income is far below Florida’s median salary. 

Because of Indiantown’s proximity to agricultural job opportunities, many migrant workers call Indiantown home, making the area as diverse as it is beautiful. For the past 45 years, Holy Cross Parish has been cognizant to the needs of the Indiantown community, adhering to the Gospel of Matthew 25: 35-46, which reminds the faithful that whatever is done to the least of our brethren is done unto the Lord most high. 

Holy Cross Service Center is the parish’s nonprofit organization, staffed by five employees and five volunteers. It provides a wide variety of services and resources to members of the Indiantown community. Its mission is to strive to “minister to the financial and spiritually poor of the Indiantown community, providing material goods, and services to all, regardless of race, religion or ethnic group, in an atmosphere that seeks to promote the peace and well-being of the individuals who come to us for assistance.” 

Each month, more than 300 families benefit from bags of groceries that include nutritious foods, meats, proteins, grains and fruits. During the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity has been an issue for individuals and families throughout the diocese. After schools closed campuses to transition to virtual learning and now for summer break, families who rely on free breakfast and lunch programs for their children’s nutritional needs face coming hardships for the summer months. Add to this the number of families whose already small income has been wiped out or seriously depleted through unemployment. 

The center also assists Indiantown families with rent, utility, and medical costs – needs which have increased sharply during the pandemic as well. 

“We assist families, of course, but we also have a number of cases which involve confined individuals who are unable to work because of their illness and who rely on the aid the center gives them,” said Juan Carlos Lasso, director of religious education at the Holy Cross Service Center.

Because Indiantown is home to many undocumented individuals, many of the Indiantown residents work in essential jobs, including cleaning, construction, golf course maintenance, landscaping, and nurseries – areas which have been hard-hit because of the pandemic. 

Providing food, shelter, clothing and medicine is a costly endeavor, and Holy Cross Service Center relies on personal donations and grants, as well as sales from its small thrift store. The thrift store offers low-cost food, used clothing, small appliances, household and other items donated by generous individuals. All sales from the thrift store benefit the mission and services provided to local residences in need. 

Lasso shared that the center has recently applied for grant aid, but money is hard to come by due to the prioritizing of larger agencies who reach more expansive communities and have more staff available to stay on top of the complicated grant process. Lasso said the center relies on donations of food and other items from Publix, Walmart and local churches just to stay stocked. 

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, continued Lasso, sales at the Holy Cross Service Center thrift store have declined by 60%, which has put the center itself in a financial tailspin. 

“We are in the very difficult position of trying to sustain the center’s expenses,” Lasso said. “We have reduced our operating hours and services and now find ourselves to be in need of assistance from the community we serve in order to survive.” 

Despite being in a time of difficulty and much stress, Lasso, staff and volunteers continue to do as much as they can to help the community, but they send an appeal to anyone who is able to make a tax-deductible donation to help keep the doors open and the lights on. 

“We are looking for grants and donations, small or large, and we want people to know that each and every donation made will help ensure that we can continue our work and service to the community. It is difficult, to be sure, but we are humbled and want everyone to know that, at this moment in time, we are ‘the least of our brothers,’ and we hope that others will help pave their way into the kingdom of God by choosing to live the Gospel of Matthew with us, too.”