CHARLESTON – Last year’s fire at Our Lady of Mercy Church on America Street didn’t phase the staff and the volunteers at Neighborhood House, the soup kitchen downstairs. They just found other ways to offer the services.
“It was only closed one day, then they got right back to business,” said Dominican Sister Pat Keating, regional coordinator for Catholic Charities.
The building had damage from smoke and water. Vonceil Mitchell, the outreach’s coordinator, took her staff of one, Benjamin Gethers, and her dedicated bevy of volunteers next door to the diocese’s Vocation House to make bag lunches and serve them from the clothing center.
They served up to 175 people a day. Each lunch bag had two sandwiches, chips and a soda.
“It was hard on the people in the wintertime,” Sister Keating said. “Vonceil makes hot soup or casserole in winter and they can sit down and relax, and the same thing in the summer.”
The Office of Social Ministry, which oversees Catholic Charities, sponsored a special dedication of Neighborhood House July 23 to celebrate the completion of repairs and the resumption of business at its regular site.
Bishop Robert J. Baker blessed the facility at the event. Also in attendance were Dorothy Grillo, director of the Office of Social Ministry, Father Peter Kulundai, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy, and some of the many clients Neighborhood House serves in the city’s east side.
“We’re just so proud of what happens here,” Bishop Baker said.
Sister Keating expressed her gratitude to the nearly 50 volunteers who helped keep the Neighborhood House functioning.
“We couldn’t have done it without the volunteers,” she said. “They were there right away.”
Our Lady of Mercy Church is scheduled to reopen Aug. 24.