ALEXANDRIA, VA-Birthday cake was the icing on the cake Thursday evening as Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington celebrated 50 years of caring for the most vulnerable at Christ House, its multi-ministry house for the poor in Old Town Alexandria.
More than 50 homeless or in-need men and women lined up to eat a hot meal inside the centuries-old brick building at the corner of Prince and West Street in Alexandria, or to take their meal to go.
“If the Church is a field hospital for those wounded on the battlefield of life, as Pope Francis says, then Christ House offers the next level of critical care to vulnerable neighbors,” said Catholic Charities President and CEO Stephen Carattini.
“Christ House is the emergency room,” said Carattini, who helped serve the meal to 17 men and three women in the dining room. “This is where people first come when they are wounded. We’re providing very basic needs, food, shelter, and clothing. These are the elemental needs of people’s lives. In this emergency room we carry out our mission to the poor and the vulnerable.”
Some 40 community groups – mostly Catholic parishes, but also members of other faith communities, civic and business groups – volunteer each night, 365 days a year to prepare and serve the meal.
Thursday’s menu, prepared and served by the Knights of Columbus from St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Great Falls, included hamburger, baked beans, potato salad, and fruit cup. The white-iced chocolate cake was decorated with an image of Christ House, copied from a painting by a former resident of Christ House’s men’s transitional housing program.
Following the meal, Sr. Aniliza Juan, who coordinates volunteers at Christ House, handed diners gallon-sized bags with granola bars, pop-top cans of Vienna sausage, crackers, juice, prayer cards, notes from school students, and gift cards to nearby fast-food restaurants.
Christ House opened on Cameron Street in September 1973. Four years later it moved to its current location, a three-story former corner grocery store on West Street. Over the years Christ House has offered multiple critical services: a food pantry, mental health counseling, job mentoring, and the signature evening meal. Last year Christ House served 17,627 meals, up almost 42.3% from 12,311 the previous year.
Initially a shelter for men and families, it evolved to a transitional housing and workforce development program for men.
Maryland native Ronald Redman, 62, a former resident was unemployed, on the outs with family members and struggling with his years-long battle with alcohol. He’d moved into a nearby homeless shelter that encouraged sobriety, “but everything else in my life was in shambles.”
He then entered the Men’s Transitional Housing Program at Christ House and completed the program earlier this year.
“We only went by two things,” Redman says, “One was the spirituality, and the other was learning how to sustain life outside of Christ House.”
Redman learned about structures and daily routines, budgeting, and financial accountability. He had one-on-one conversations with his case manager, and group conversations about anger and other the challenges he faced. He delved deep into his relationship with God.
Since leaving Christ House, Redman has moved to an apartment back in Maryland near his siblings, and is continuing his path of sobriety, routines, and maintaining his relationship with God.
“I didn’t know I had this much life in me. I never knew I could be doing the things I’m doing,” Redman says. “I owe so much of my life to Christ House.” [SEE ALSO: Celebrate Halloween in Alexandria With a Parade, Graveyard Tours, and Costume Contests]