Last Thursday evening, the St. Francis Shelter hosted its annual fundraising dinner as it prepares to open the winter warming shelter on December 15, 2018.
Nearly 100 people enjoyed the celebration that included an authentic Polish dinner prepared by Director Carl Zawatski and his staff. Carl makes special mention of and acknowledges Brick and Marty Wall – friends of St. Francis – who are bona fide saints in their own rights. The dinner would have been impossible to coordinate without their extraordinary attention to detail. The event raised $8,000, which will enable the warming shelter to open on schedule in less than two weeks.
Carl introduced the evening by thanking “new friends and old, benefactors and volunteers, big and small,” and was quick to affirm that the cement that holds the shelter together comes from a power much greater than all of us. “A person needs nourishment for his soul,” he said, “and it the world’s relationship with God and humanity’s prayers that keeps the Earth from spinning off its axis. Similarly, it is your prayers and our relationship with God that keep this shelter intact.”
Vice Mayor Richard Fimbres was unable to attend due to illness, but Carl shared an observation the Vice Mayor made earlier in the week at a meeting with the St. Francis Shelter, Old Pueblo Community Services and the city. “Many parks in Tucson are threatened by homeless wanderers, many of whom are addicts, and as a result, families are reluctant to use our beautiful parks,” Fimbres said. “Guess which park in town that families are returning to. Right here! Right next door to the shelter, which also happens to be one of the most at-risk neighborhoods in town.” Carl is justifiably proud of what the shelter has accomplished, and its generosity and compassion are setting the pace for others in the community.
Several guest speakers were on-hand to offer their first-hand perspectives of the remarkable evolution of the St. Francis shelter. They included Tom Litwicki, Chief Executive Officer of Old Pueblo Community Services who sees the shelter as a ‘living organism’ taking on a life of its own and moving in directions he never thought possible.
Mike Sarabia, CEO of DSW Commercial Real Estate in Tucson shared thoughts that he and Carl discussed on their common belief that, not unlike the homeless community the shelter serves, we are all broken. “This facility and Carl’s ministry,” he said, “represent the tools to give and receive those unexpected and intangible gifts that only come out of our brokenness.”
November 29th is the Feast of All Saints of the Seraphic Order, a celebration of the Franciscan saints who followed in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi. Brother David OFM and mentor to Carl since he arrived a homeless vagabond in Tucson a decade ago offered the attendees the words of St. Bonaventure (1221- 1274), the great Franciscan teacher who lived a generation after Francis eight hundred years ago. “……Let the friars bear in mind that they must strive above all to have the spirit of the Lord and his holy operation, to pray to God always with a pure heart and to have humility and patience in persecution and sickness, and to love those who persecute, reprehend and blame us…..” Wise words from a wise man through a wise man.
Carl’s spiritual director Father Tom Picton, CSSR and Director of the Desert House of Prayer verbalized what has always been at the heart of Carl’s mission at the shelter. We are called to serve not to be served and those we serve represent the brokenness that is a part of all of us whether we recognize it or not. Most importantly, these broken souls are creating a new Christianity reminiscent of first-century Christianity when power, prestige, and money was not important to Jesus. Father Tom is convinced that this shelter is setting an example to the country for new communities across the nation where broken people rise up and unite to help other broken people. Father Tom’s comments are so powerful and important that he has agreed to allow us to post his talk – in its entirety – in an upcoming post. You can expect to see in very soon on this website.
The Winter Warming Shelter operates 76 nights from December 15th through the end of February and averages 56 homeless guests each night, which is an impressive 4,256 homeless guests. This equates to a staggering workload for the seven men who staff the shelter. Total cost to include rent, food, bedding, and toiletries is just over $20,000 at approximately $5 a night for one guest. The fundraiser’s $8,000 is a good start and made a significant dent in this year’s operating budget, but we are not quite halfway to the total. Please consider a donation, large or small to help us serve the homeless community through the challenging winter months in the desert.
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