Doing the laundry may not seem like a pressing need when donors consider how their contributions may help others, but for the homeless, especially families, clean clothes can make the difference for parents who need to maintain a job or children who want to go to school without being bullied.

When this need was brought to light by a homeless mother, Laundry Love was put into place by the board of the ecumenical Community Action Service Team helping those in Waterbury and the surrounding area. Volunteers are available with quarters one Wednesday a month at a local laundromat for those who are struggling financially.

As one of three churches comprising CAST, St. Andrew Parish in Waterbury is a vital part of assisting those in need, not only with laundry and not only during the winter months but throughout the year. St. Andrew pastor Father Jerome Mercure, who sits on the board of CAST, said the ecumenical group works together and makes no distinction among those who are helped.

Along with the Congregational Church and Hunger Mountain Congregation, parishioners of St. Andrew’s are among those who support the two main outreach programs of CAST – The Waterbury Food Shelf, which helps people in the region keep food on their tables year round, and the Waterbury Good Neighbor Fund, which helps those in need with heating oil, rent and other urgent needs.

St. Andrew Parish encourages contributions to the food shelf on the second Sunday of every month, though baskets for food donations are always accessible when visiting the church. Father Mercure said that in working at the food shelf “you hear the broader story of what goes on in the lives of those who are seeking assistance.” For that reason, additional items like coats, made available by the Knights of Columbus, and blankets are kept on hand.

In addition, Father Mercure noted that his generous parishioners have established a parish fund specifically to help families with children, in a variety of “challenging needs and situations.” In 2014, Father Mercure explained, the parish fund helped more than 40 families with such things as rent, security deposits and even cancer treatments.

Linda Parks, a member of St. Andrew Parish and director of the food shelf, explained that as part of the food shelf outreach, both Thanksgiving and Christmas bags are filled and distributed.  For Thanksgiving, bags include a frozen turkey and non-perishable foods. Last year some 120 turkeys were donated following a community appeal and distributed as part of the Thanksgiving bags.

For Christmas, two bags are filled for each family, one for breakfast, one for dinner, and includes a ham. “St. Andrew Parish always offers space in St. Leo’s Hall for set up and distribution,” Parks said, “and the Knights of Columbus always offer help.” Last year, 140 families received Christmas bags within a community of only 6,000 people, she added.

Reflecting on the need for such outreach, Father Mercure said, “It is part of our Catholic mission. Parishes in this area, our local Church, are doing so much in the form of charitable work.”

—Originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.