A Season of Hope & Renewal
After over a year under COVID-19 protocols, we are beginning to emerge from a time none of us could have ever imagined. With that emergence comes a feeling of hope, the promise of new life, and a new reality post-COVID.
All throughout the pandemic, the SSJ Neighborhood Center continued its work of uniting neighbor and to neighbor and neighborhood to neighborhood by providing opportunities for connection, enrichment, and empowerment. Social distancing and masks certainly didn't put a damper on our mission or the needs of our community. Through it all, we held firm to our belief that relationships are the key to what we do and who we are!
As neighbors, we learned how to gather in-person and online for the flourishing of all people. Online, our English classes flourished in the spring semester as students and teachers stretched themselves to learn new things in new ways. The virtual format of classes allowed groups to gather in a safe way and with a new form of intimacy. Most classes stayed small with one to five students per class. This size allowed our teachers to give personal attention to their students and the virtual format allowed us to welcome students at a distance who we wouldn't normally be able to serve in-person. At the end of April, morning and evening classes (nine sections in all) concluded with everyone in agreement of how much our community was able to accomplish this semester!
On May 1st, the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, our community gathered with neighbors from Norwood-Fontbonne Academy (NFA) to kick off the growing season in our community garden. Students and their families from NFA partnered with the Neighborhood Center to grow seedlings this spring and to collect much needed goods for our neighbors to establish their garden beds. After a day full of weeding and clearing space, the beds were seeded for the season ahead. With everything from sunflowers to cilantro and corn to cucumbers, we are watching as the garden comes to life and our neighbors are busy tending their plots for a bountiful harvest.
In this Year of Saint Joseph, the Neighborhood Center has been reflecting on "Patris Corde", Pope Francis' Apostolic Letter on Saint Joseph, each Tuesday on our social media pages by delving into the wisdom Joseph has to share with us. The Neighborhood Center has also been celebrating the gift of our workers and the improvements we've seen on site at the Center. Our trees have been trimmed, we've readied the ground for new outdoor spaces, our Bolsa Room has gotten new storage/shelving, and a laundry space for neighbors is being setup.
A year after we moved outside, our food distribution continues to be held outdoors as we welcome our neighbors who are in need of food. On the third Wednesday of each month, nearly 200 families join us for distribution, with more neighbors coming throughout the rest of the month for food and other necessities from our pantry. By the grace of God, we have been blessed with generous donors who keep our shelves stocked and whose generosity has allowed us to begin offering specialized goods to families with babies and young children.
Our faithful volunteers have helped us to weather the difficulties of this time; their presence and hard work is a gift as we work together to make this ministry possible. Those unable to join us in-person have been busy sewing grocery bags for our neighbors to use and to reduce our use of plastic for the good of the Earth. Truly, we give thanks for the gift our volunteer are to the neighbors they encounter, the hidden ways they serve, and the many ways they live out our mission by partnering with the Neighborhood Center.
With Summer 2021 upon us, the Neighborhood Center is beginning to prepare to welcome neighbors back into the hallowed halls of the building. This summer conversation circles for those learning English will take place as well as the (hopeful) resumption of sewing and crocheting classes and the addition of other programming that will allow our neighbors to gather to build community while caring for the health and safety of all.
Soon we hope that things will be a little bit more "normal." In the meantime, we rejoice in the gifts of life and love that are ours each day. We are blessed to share in community with so many and look forward to what God has planned for the months ahead. Surely it is a time full of grace and we pray that all who join us in person and in spirit know that we are one, sharing in the gifts God gives us and standing united in hope and love!
Welcoming the New Year
As we welcome 2021, there is much to be grateful for as we look back on 2020.
In the midst of a global pandemic, the SSJ Neighborhood Center has been hard at work trying to provide for our neighbors in need. Although we've been restricted in the ways we can gather in-person, we found ways to connect and continue our ministry online in the fall semester. Our English classes, which transitioned online suddenly in March 2020, were completely virtual this fall. While it took some adjusting and training to pull off, our volunteer teachers and students were amazingly flexible and resilient in adjusting to the new format for learning. With both morning and evening classes online, we found that we could meet the needs of our students unusual pandemic schedules, adjusting to having children and home and making space and computers available at the Center for those without proper technological access. We celebrated the end of the semester with a bilingual Advent prayer service online, which brought together students, volunteers, board members, and sisters to share in the season and to give thanks for God's many gifts.
Our distribution of food has continued outdoors as we've moved into the winter months. Heavy jackets and gloves to stay warm are a small price to pay for the health and safety of all those we serve. We give thanks for the generous donors who keep our food pantry stocked and the volunteers who help on distribution days, without whom we wouldn't be able to meet the growing needs of our neighborhood.
In December, we also hosted our first Neighbor to Neighbor Sharing Market, a opportunity for neighbors to choose home goods, decorations, gifts, and other wares that we have stored up while the "free table" has not been running at our food pantry during the pandemic. This event was a wonderful success, utilizing the whole hall beneath the Center and sharing the abundance we are blessed from our neighbors near and far with our neighbors here in Camden.
2020 was a difficult year in many ways. We miss seeing our neighbors as often as we're used to and have had to adjust the way we do what we do, but with God's grace we trust that 2021 holds the promise of better days and are discovering the graces that came with the adjustments required by the coronavirus pandemic. We pray that the year ahead bring good health and blessings to all. Thank you for the many ways you join us in community and here's to all 2021 will hold!
A Summer Like No Other
With the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 is certainly a year unlike any other. After a few months of classes at the Center, we suspended English, sewing, computer, and crocheting classes in mid-March as the public health situation become strikingly apparent. Yet, even with classes suspended and the day-to-day routine upended, we've continued to respond to the needs of our neighbor. As the spring and summer progressed we planted and harvested our community garden with the help of a select group of faithful farmers tending to the crops.
Meanwhile, our food pantry is busier than ever! Before COVID-19, we served about 150 families on a given distribution day, now in the midst of the pandemic we are helping to feed nearly 300 families every third Wednesday of the month, as well as providing groceries, fruit, and other goods to local students through the Catholic Partnership Schools in Camden. All our distribution is now done outside for the safety of all and we've welcomed a load of (socially-distanced & masked) volunteers to help us meet the increased demand. Increased demand has also been met by the abundant generosity of our neighbors near and far who've helped us keep our shelves stocked.
As the community and country face COVID-19, we're also facing the growing awareness of the systemic racism in our country which effects all of us. The Center is trying to do our part to empower the community and, in living our mission each day, emphasizing the dignity of all people, the need to love our neighbors, and the work we must do to confront the sin of racism in our hearts and in our world.
Starting the New Year
2020 is off to a great start! In January and February, our English classes got up and running. We welcomed our largest student body yet- with 10 sections of English offered throughout the week. Our teacher volunteers are ready for any good work & our students are learning more and more each day!
Sewing & Crocheting continue on Mondays and Tuesdays, with new projects abounding. Computer classes will begin on Monday, February 17th from 3:30- 4:30PM and we're getting ready for our Neighborhood Mardi Gras Potluck Celebration on Sunday, February 23rd at 2PM! All are Welcome!
Our Fall has been full of things to give thanks for! Neighbors in our sewing group all made aprons for Thanksgiving, our crocheting class is growing, and volunteers from near and far have joined us to build community by doing everything from helping to teach English to constructing and filling new garden beds. What a season to give thanks for our many blessings!
Falling into Fall!
As the weather turns cooler and the sunlight gets a little dimmer, the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Center is shining a light for all to see. October marks the beginning of a new semester of programming, including newly added Sewing, Crocheting, and Computer classes as well as the return of English classes (now during the day and evening) and Neighborhood Prayer group. As always, the Food Pantry continues to thrive and feed all those in need!
We've been blessed!
June 1, 2019 marked the dedication and blessing of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Center. The day was filled with joy and gratitude for the many people that have helped to get us to this point. Work on the Center will continue throughout the summer and programming will be in full force this fall!
Our Fall 2018 English Classes have come to a close! All three levels of classes came together to celebrate the successful completion of the semester. Many students will continue in the classes, which begin again in January, and we are registering new students now. Thanks to our wonderful teachers and volunteers who are making this program possible.