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Catholic Charities includes Soup Kitchen in Immokalee  
Most Reverend Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of the Diocese of Venice, presided over the blessing of the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen.

Staff and volunteers of the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen shared in the ceremonies blessing the facility.

Helping the neediest men, women and children is at the very heart of what Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities was founded upon.

This is one of the reasons that beginning Jan. 1, 2013, Guadalupe Social Services took over a soup kitchen previously run by the neighboring Guadalupe Center. The soup kitchen, clothing and shower programs are now part of a deal by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Venice as the social service agency assumes a more prominent role in the community.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane blessed the newly named Casa Maria Soup Kitchen during a ceremony on Jan. 14. “This is an important moment for Catholic Charities and Guadalupe Social Services. We are keeping this soup kitchen going. Because of the need in the area we hope to see this and the other programs grow over time. The need is out there and as Catholics we are called to respond to that need.”

Thanking the staff and volunteers of the soup kitchen, many of whom were present for the ceremony, Bishop Dewane said the “blessing is as much for you, the volunteers, as much as it is for the building.” He added that he admires the work they do and the impact they have made through the years and vowed to continue that legacy.

Catholic Charities CEO Peter Routsis-Arroyo added to that thought, saying the legacy of Guadalupe Social Services is expanding and picking up where the Guadalupe Center left off and pursues a different focus. While the soup kitchen is under different management, it will remain the same, serving up to 100 people each day.

For more than 30 years the two social service agencies worked as friendly but unaffiliated neighbors in the same building on the property of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, but the two helped in the community in their own unique ways.

Guadalupe Social Services, a program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Venice Inc., serves the needy through a Food Pantry, a Financial Assistance Program, Citizenship and Immigration Services, School on Wheels and special efforts such as Back-to-School Assistance, Undy Sunday and Holiday Food and Gift Programs. Guadalupe Center served the needy through its soup kitchen, clothing and shower programs, and through education services. The center will now focus exclusively on providing education support for nearly 1,000 area children at a new facility in Immokalee.

By taking over the primary work of the Guadalupe Center, Catholic Charities will now be serving up to 35,000 hot lunches each year thanks to nearly 150 volunteers. The newly named Casa Maria Soup Kitchen seats about 90 people and often fills up with the neediest people, many out of work or homeless, some just seeking a rare hot meal.

“We are looking to the people who have donated to soup kitchen and other programs in the past to continue to support this most basic effort of providing a hot meal to the needy,” Armando Galella, District Director of Catholic Charities of Collier County. “The Casa Maria Soup Kitchen is also an opportunity to bring in new people who are looking to support a program that helps people in a direct way. What other way is there than at a soup kitchen?”

Mark Pratt, who has helped coordinate the volunteers at the soup kitchen for many years, noted that the transition is exciting for everyone. “Having Catholic Charities in charge is exciting as we are now one big family with our old neighbors. Everyone’s goal is to expand this program over time.”

Routsis-Arroyo said the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen will serve as a test case for a possible opening of additional soup kitchens in places of critical need throughout the Diocese of Venice. “This is a very exciting time for Catholic Charities. We have a long history of providing food to the needy, but rarely have we ever provided hot meals, except on special occasions. This is an opportunity to really help people in a more direct way. We will use the lessons learned to make such soup kitchens efficient and viable so that they have the greatest impact possible.”

Catholic Charities also will take over the Clothing Room and Shower Program. The Clothing Room provides clients with clothing and household items. The Shower Program provides clients with shower facilities and fresh towels, clothing and toiletries to maintain their hygiene as well as their dignity. The Guadalupe Center will continue to provide clothing and household items to the program through donations made to their resale shop in Naples.

Guadalupe Social Services Program Director Ninfa Drago said the agreement to take over the soup kitchen, clothing and shower programs is something that has been talked about for a long time. “We are now providing expanded social services to each person who comes to the soup kitchen. This is important to helping individuals and families get the services they need to help improve their current situation.”

This is done through talking to the individuals and families who use the soup kitchen and learn why they are there. By knowing this, Guadalupe Social Services counselors can direct people to other programs that might make them less reliant on the soup kitchen in the future.

To take advantage of the soup kitchen, there are plans in the works to offer the existing School on Wheels program for mothers right after a lunch in the same room. The School on Wheels program sends people to homes to teach mothers conversational English. This will ultimately help the mother when she visits the doctor or visits their children’s school. Having everyone in the same room will reach many more people and have a greater impact.

Even with the added services, none of the programs run by Guadalupe Social Services will change immediately, Drago explained. “Our commitment is to helping the people of Immokalee; we just now do it in more ways.”

For people interested in learning more about the programs of Guadalupe Social Services they get visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org or call 239-657-6242.

For those interested in supporting the programs, they can use the Web site or send a check to Guadalupe Social Services, PO Box 5034, Immokalee, FL 34143. Make checks payable to “Guadalupe Social Services.” If you would like to make a direct donation to the soup kitchen, please note that on the check as well.