A note from our pastor, Fr. Simon Kalonga:
After more than 40 years of serving the needy in our community, Mary’s Closet, a beloved ministry of St. Joseph Parish, will suspend its outreach on April 1, 2017. We are working diligently with local agencies so that the needs of the poor in our community can be met safely with adequate space.
Mary’s Closet has been a staple of our Parish ministry to the less fortunate since 1976. From its humble beginning as a small ministry started by parishioners Diane Hecker and Donna Beard, it has grown into the largest distributor of free clothing to the needy in Fort Collins. We are grateful for the all-volunteer staff who have worked tirelessly to provide this service to our community over these many years.
The difficult decision to suspend the services of Mary’s Closet was not made lightly nor with a lack of concern for our less fortunate brothers and sisters. It came after several years of growing concern dating back to 2006, at which time the volunteers managing the closet created a list of concerns ranging from safety and security to lack of space. The reality is that we can no longer provide this service and assure a safe environment for our school children. Our staff members are also at risk.
Following are the main reasons for suspending this mission:
Safety and Security
First and foremost, there is growing concern for the safety of school children, staff members, parishioners and visitors. Although many of our Mary’s Closet visitors are good people, there is a growing number of visitors who have psychological or substance abuse issues. There is also a growing number of individuals who pose a risk of exposing children to attitudes and perverse behavior that can be harmful. Furthermore, there are some individuals who exhibit violent and aggressive behavior. Not only is there a potential for exposing our children and staff to danger, but also of placing Saint Joseph Parish in a very dangerous position of liability if something tragic were to happen.
- The rear door of the Parish Center, which is in close proximity to the school, provides an opportunity for individuals to enter the building without knowledge of the staff. Even though we do our best to have Mary’s Closet visitors enter and exit through the front door of the Parish Center on Howes Street so as not to have direct access to the school, many do not comply.
- Once they enter the building, there is no way to prevent individuals from wandering through the parish offices and entering the school.
- Altercations with unruly visitors and theft within the Parish Center have increased.
- The number of calls to the Fort Collins Police department has increased exponentially in the last two years, primarily to intervene in altercations with unruly visitors.
- The number of people changing clothes outside the Parish Center and School has increased. In addition, individuals are frequently seen loitering and smoking in the bushes, behind the donation bins, or other places on school and parish property.
- The current space can no longer serve the number of people who need this type of help. There has been a dramatic increase in the demand for Mary’s Closet services. Ten years ago, a busy day in Mary’s Closet saw roughly 20 people. We now see 50 to 80 people per day and have to turn people away at times because of overcrowding.
- The closet has only one exit; particularly risky when the waiting room and the closet are crowded.
- Mary’s Closet is currently located in the basement of the Parish Center. This location is a growing concern in terms of safety. The majority of the volunteers are of retirement age, making the stairway a potential hazard.
- The Parish Center is an old building which currently has no access for them. Persons with disabilities are therefore unable to visit Mary’s Closet for their needs.
Mary’s Closet Path Forward
- Joseph Parish continues to work with Catholic Charities and the Sr. Mary Alice Murphy Center for Hope to find a location and an agency better equipped to provide these valuable services, especially to homeless men and women in our community. Although nobody has come forward, our hope is that this will happen soon.
- We are thankful to be able to continue our mission of serving the poor in our community through our monthly financial support of Catholic Charities, support to Gabriel House, regular food drives for the Larimer County Food Bank, and our annual Jesse Tree.
I ask you, my dear parishioners, to join me in prayer asking the Lord to provide a means in this community to continue the most important work that Mary’s Closet has provided. We humbly ask God to provide for a group or an agency that can help our brothers and sisters in need; providing support in a safe environment with staffing equipped to meet the needs of our homeless and poor, while being able to serve all who seek help.
Rev. Simon Kalonga