“At St. Mary’s, you will be heard and will be respected,” Fr. John “Jack” Timlin Jr., CM, said of St. Mary’s Church on Duke Street in Greensboro, North Carolina.
St. Mary’s also understands when you fall on tough times. Someone respecting you and listening to you doesn’t pay for food, let alone for rent. That’s why the church’s Social Outreach Committee exists.
What St. Mary’s Social Outreach Committee is and How it Operates
The committee, comprised of 10 parishioners, assesses its community’s needs and responds to them. In practical terms, it’s aimed at helping people pay for the basics: heat, medical care, and food.
The funding structure is simple. Fr. Timlin calls it a “2-2-2” model. On the second Sunday of each month, every Mass includes a second collection asking for at least $2.
“[The committee] could never exist without the generosity of our parishioners, who every second Sunday are very generous,” Fr. Timlin said.
The process for people to receive help is equally straightforward: They contact the church with their need and then meet with committee members. From there, a six-person team determines what the committee can afford to give.
“The members deserve great credit for what they do,” Fr. Timlin said. “I really, really have a great admiration for the administrative work that they do.”
Here’s the crucial part: Everyone receives something.
“We do have a lot of needs. For example, just over the past week, I received ten requests just myself,” Fr. Timlin said.
To ensure everyone receives something, people making several sequential requests may be asked to wait. In addition to the support of its parishioners, the committee now receives funding through grants.
The Central Association of the Miraculous Medal, a nonprofit of the Vincentians of the Eastern Province, provides some of those grants. You can join the Vincentians and our mission to fight poverty here.
How St. Mary’s Social Outreach Committee Began
Fr. Bill Allegretto, CM, and Fr. Erik Sanchez, CM, (a deacon at the time), and parishioner Chris Fombin created the committee in response to the Pandemic’s devastating impact on their Greensboro community.
“The hallmark of any Vincentian parish should be outreach to those who are on the margins, those who are poor,” Fr. Timlin said. “The other piece is, in our own constitutions and in our own spirit, every Vincentian priest or brother is asked to be somehow in contact with those who are poor or on the margins for their input, their wisdom, and insight on a personal, friendly basis. So those two things are an important part of our life here at St Mary’s.”
Here’s another important point: Everyone means everyone. You do not need to be a parishioner to receive help.
“We have people in the community who are in need. And it doesn’t matter whether or not they’re a member of our parish: We try to meet that need,” Fr. Timlin said. “We’re not called just to serve our parishioners.
“That’s not the way St. Vincent would have worked. He would not have made the distinction between who’s Catholic, who’s non-Catholic, who’s a part of this, or who’s a part of that. St. Vincent would have been with those who were poor and on the margins at that particular time.”
So, how much money does the Committee work with?
“We’ve been blessed. I would say probably since I got here in August of 2021 – it’s hard for me to determine – but maybe 30, 40, or $50,000,” Fr. Timlin said.
The committee and parish also don’t solely serve the community through financial assistance, nor do they serve Greensboro by themselves.
Who St. Mary’s Social Outreach Committee Partners Beside
For instance, FaithAction works alongside the church to help new neighbors assimilate into their community.
While St. Mary’s was founded as a Black Catholic church, Immigrants, refugees, and migrants comprise a significant portion of St. Mary’s parishioners in 2024. St. Mary’s diverse community includes many languages: primarily English (as a second language), Spanish, and Vietnamese, as well as various languages of Africa.
“We all have to be a positive part of this community,” Fr. Timlin said.
Beyond the example of FaithAction, St. Mary’s local partners include Out of the Garden, whose Fresh Mobile Markets are free mobile food pantries that distribute fresh produce, bread, meat, and nonperishable items at the church every month. At Christmas, they partner with the Salvation Army of Greensboro (one of its board members goes to St. Mary’s) to ensure every child receives a gift. And, of course, the parish works in tandem with Greensboro’s other Catholic parishes and organizations.
What St. Mary’s Needs
Just because the committee’s work is going well does not mean St. Mary’s doesn’t have needs. In Fr. Timlin’s eyes, the parish needs space and volunteers.
“The parish is growing, and we’re bursting at the seams,” Fr. Timlin said. “We’re in need of more space to do our social outreach, and also for faith formation, for worship, for socializing.
“I mean, we could always use money for the Outreach Committee. That’s always a given because of the needs … But I’ll be honest with you: if I had to look at what is our greatest need, we need more space. That would be our greatest need right now.”
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