In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about giving to the needy and says, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.”
One of the largest and most visible organizations in Alaska, Providence Health & Services Alaska, embodies this teaching. While they are often in the news regarding health care issues, much less is known about their behind-the-scenes philanthropic work. Providence is a long-time dedicated partner in our Catholic Social Services (CSS) mission of serving the poor and vulnerable, and I am delighted to tell you that they are a finalist for the Anchorage Chamber’s Gold Pan Award for Distinguished Community Service for a large organization.
Their support for many of our programs has been remarkable.
Recently the CSS’ St. Francis House food pantry (a program that provides groceries to 15,000 people and distributes over 650,000 lbs of food annually) lost a significant grant, which required CSS to take steps to reduce both pantry hours and staff. The CSS Board of Trustees was informed of the situation and one of the board members who serves on the leadership team at Providence, told the Providence leadership about the situation. As a result they stepped in to fill the funding gap. Generally our food pantry clients fall into three categories; those who live on a fixed income without savings (the elderly or disabled); the working poor; and individuals and families who are reestablishing a home after a period of homelessness, incarceration or treatment.
CSS is the state-designated refugee resettlement agency for Alaska. Through our program refugees from all over the world — Bhutan, Somalia, Sudan, Burma, Iraq — come to Alaska to escape persecution.
A lot of people ask why they choose to come to Alaska. They don’t choose, the federal government assigns them to a state, they get on a plane on the other side of the world and we meet them at the airport.
Through the efforts of Providences’ Kathleen Barrows and Monica Anderson, Providence developed a program to hire refugees to work in the environmental services department. The refugees are very hard workers, and Providence gives them their first chance at starting a new life in the U.S.
Several years ago CSS began a process to double the capacity and improve the services offered by Clare House. During the renovation process, CSS reached a point where construction was ready to be put on hold while funds were raised. Providence made a generous contribution, allowing renovations to proceed on schedule. Providence continues, as they have done since 1983, to provide daily supplies of milk, fruit and other foods as needed for the residents.
At Brother Francis Shelter (BFS), CSS serves over 3,500 homeless men and women each year, many who have been on the streets for decades and suffer from complex medical issues. The only medical care they receive is through the Providence ER or at the BFS Caring Clinic. This is a clinic run solely by volunteers. Several of the clinic days each month are staffed by the Providence Family Medicine Residency program. Providence also generously provides the medicines and supplies that keep this clinic going. Providence dietary staff cooks and delivers dinner to the shelter for the 300 guests who eat there each evening of the year. When BFS reaches its capacity of 240 during the winter, BFS also runs an overflow shelter for an additional 124 homeless individuals. The funding for this is never assured. At the end of 2013, Providence gave CSS a generous gift to ensure that no homeless individuals that are eligible for shelter services are left in the cold.
Providence generously sponsors the HUGSS (Helping Us Give School Supplies) & Coats for Kids event. HUGSS is a collaborative community partnership that helps prepare children for school and fosters an excitement for learning.
We at CSS have witnessed first-hand Providence’s tremendous generosity. Providence is truly worthy of the distinction of being a finalist for the Anchorage Chamber’s Gold Pan Award for Distinguished Community Service.
The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 276-5590 or visit cssalaska.org.