LAKELAND | In the middle of downtown Lakeland, you’ll soon find a bunch of volunteers with a heart for service. Catholic Charities of Central Florida (CCCF) has moved in next to St. Joseph Parish on the old school property. “It’s a meaningful way to implement Bishop Noonan’s prioritization of the harmonization of ministries,” said CCCF president Gary Tester.
Father Tim LaBo, pastor of St. Joseph, agrees. It was his idea to “consolidate services for our community to meet their needs.” The homeless and poor population is increasing. Crowds now gather near the many ministries offered within blocks of the church. Nearby train and bus stops provide easy access to assistance. “St. Joseph’s charism has always been outreach and I think this fits in nicely to our charism as a church,” he added.
Catholic Charities moved to campus in early October as Father LaBo says, “to provide a one-stop service center.” Immigration assistance, behavioral health therapy, family services and more can be found under the same roof. “As Catholics, we really need to come together, work together as teams,” he explained. “We’re becoming more of a minority as time goes on. As that happens, I feel it is more of a challenge for us to stand together, be strong and show the world our Catholicity in our strength and in our unity.”
CCCF already has a mission market in Lake Wales and a food pantry in Winter Haven. With this addition, “It gives us a robust food ministry in Polk County,” Tester noted. Father LaBo hopes Catholic Charities’ oversight and expertise will “open up more opportunities for our community and improve our quality of service.” Opened 40 years ago, the traditional pantry, which served 10,000 families annually prior to COVID-19, would like to become an Agape Mission Market. The model allows guests to choose the kind of food they like.
Catholic Charities’ Senior Services will move in early next year. Both staff and visitors will benefit from safe outdoor space, more classrooms and plenty of parking.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, October 12, 2020