A Light to the Poor
Written by Dena Forret
Matthew 25: 35-40: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
Widowed and retired almost three years ago, parishioner Mary Ann Saluri knew she needed to do something different with her life. She wanted to give back to her community and to become more active by doing things for other people. Mary Ann researched volunteer options and became interested in JOPPA Outreach.
JOPPA, a Des Moines organization, was founded by Joe and Jacki Stevens and their son, Caleb. Joe states in a recent newsletter, “Dying homeless frequently means dying alone and forgotten.”
The homeless often have lost touch with family members. Since 2009 JOPPA has lost 32 homeless friends. Mary Ann stated more than once that JOPPA’s mission is to save lives.
Mary Ann admits to having mixed feelings when she first visited the homeless camps in Des Moines. She said, “It was a shock to see how people have to live, especially in the winter. The first visits were very hard as I looked at the homeless with my eyes. After several visits and getting to know some of the men and women, Jesus opened the eyes of my heart. It is a spiritual experience to care for the homeless.” Mary Ann no longer cares why the homeless are there. She just wants to help.
Mary Ann shares that most of the homeless want to build relationships and to know someone cares. However, there are a few that prefer isolation and want minimal contact. Many are Christians and will pray with us or ask us for special prayers. People in these camps are there for a variety of reasons – drugs, alcoholism, prison convictions, poverty, and mental illness. The closing of mental institutions put a lot of mentally ill people on the streets. The homeless are always moving, trying to remain out of sight. Recently Des Moines officials declared the camps needed to be removed from public property. Some of the homeless cooperated and moved their belongings, but others did not. JOPPA was there to help replace what was lost.
JOPPA provides food, temporary shelter, medical care and other essentials. Propane tanks are provided for heat and cooking during the colder seasons. Candles are mixed together and melted into a bucket to provide light amidst the pitch black of night time. If you have new or slightly used candles, feel free to drop them off in the basket provided in the church gathering space. Mary Ann will make sure they are delivered to those in need.
Mary Ann likes the face-to-face interaction with the homeless, but there are many other ways one can reach out and help. Learn more at the JOPPA website: joppaoutreach.org. Along with her ministry to the poor, Mary Ann volunteers at the Mitchellville Women’s Prison with the Storybook Project, and she coordinates the outreach meals program at St. Boniface.