The needy arrive sporadically. We didn’t know this place was here, they say. They lay out their stories of jobs lost and lengthy illness, of hungry kids, painful holidays and turned-off electricity. They are embarrassed and guilty and sheepish. Symbols of a stretched social fabric.
“My husband doesn’t know I’m here,” a woman might say.
“I never thought my kids wouldn’t have a Christmas,” a man might say.
“There but for the grace of God …” Lucia Castellini always says.
She is a sister to Reds owner Bob Castellini and a Sister to everyone else. A repairer of the safety net, for those who need food, clothing and things as simple as dish soap and toothpaste. And other things, less tangible, more important.
“How can we help you?” Sr. Lucia will ask.
“I need prayers,” comes the answer.
Lucia Castellini, 55 years a Sister, is co-director of the Hope Emergency Program in Lynchburg, Ohio, a dot on the farmland map in Brown County. She and Dianne Vollman run the place, along with more than 50 volunteers.
“If they don’t come back, that’s a success,” Sr. Lucia says of the 230 or so families Hope Emergency services each week, from four counties. “They have food for their kids, they’re not sleeping in their cars. If we can get the very, very poor to a level where they can be on their own, we have succeeded.”
It’s not just a loaf of bread or a box of macaroni and cheese. It’s the security in opening a pantry door and seeing the shelves aren’t empty and the grace that comes with knowing there are good people in the world.
At the Hope Emergency Program in Lynchburh, Ohio, Wednesday is pick-up day. Folks can load their carts with bread, pasta, rice and cereal. Fresh produce and diapers, soup and frozen chicken parts. If they need a mattress or a pair of socks, a toy for Christmas or a new book to read it’s there, in three plain buildings on eight acres.
On this most recent Wednesday, Dianne surveys the scene in Building One and says of her clients, “There’s a dignity there, to be respected.”
Ursuline sisters started Hope Emergency in 1975. Sr. Lucia took over in 2001, after teaching elementary school at Guardian Angels in Anderson Township for 28 years. “When I turned 50, I didn’t know if I could teach 9-year-olds the rest of my life,” she explains.
They served 75-100 families a week then. It’s almost tripled since. “A paycheck away” is not simply a saying. It’s a fact of life.
Sr. Lucia entered the Order at age 20, after spending one year attending Creighton University. She says the choice was easy. She grew up in a religious household, her mother was active in community service. “And I just loved the Ursulines,” she says. “It was kind of like falling off a log.”
What she might have missed – a husband, a family, an ability to see the world – has been replaced with the satisfaction of service and the joy, she says, of a close relationship with God.
“I believe I’m where I’m supposed to be,” she says. “That’s a comfort.”
Downtown, her brother tends to the Reds. “Our father died when I was 9,” Sr. Lucia says. There were eight Castellini kids . Bob was the only boy. “When Bob was 10, he was told he had to be the man of the house,” says Sr. Lucia. “He took that to heart.”
While Bob was rolling up his young sleeves – attending Wharton Business School and eventually reviving and building the family produce business – Lucia was learning to serve others.
Her work at Hope Emergency is the culmination of that career. “I have been able to use my gifts, and with that I get the satisfaction of accomplishing something with my life,” she says.
We all want to know we’ve mattered. That we have been more than simply the product of our own desires. Smart people know the perfect little secret of charity: It helps the givers as much as the recipients.
The produce and food arrive on Mondays from a Walmart in Amelia, as do other essentials from a Target in Milford. Klosterman’s sends pallets stacked with bread. And so on.
Tuesdays through Thursdays, Sr. Lucia and Dianne Vollman make it all work. And are glad when it works so well, people don’t come back.
“I believe I’m where I’m supposed to be,” Lucia Castellini says. “That’s a comfort.”
“I never thought I’d have to tell my kids we wouldn’t have Christmas,” Sr. Lucia recalls a laid-off construction worker telling her last December, as he picked out a few toys. Not long after, he was back to tell her, “I got a job. You won’t see me again.”
“It’s amazing how generous people are,” she says.
Story originally published on Cincinnati.com