LAKELAND| Blessing a building is more than just asking God to protect the structure. It is about blessing those who serve within the walls. Bishop John Noonan acknowledged this distinction as he blessed the Multi-Ministry Service Center at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Lakeland on December 14th.
By harmonizing with Catholic Charities of Central Florida, the center is much more than a food pantry. It now also provides emergency financial assistance, behavioral health services, immigration serves, senior wellness programs and more, including the only adoption service center in the area.
Father Tim LaBo, pastor of St. Joseph, modeled this one-stop shop after a neighborhood center in Pine Hills where he used to minister as part of the Citizens’ Commission for Children in Orange County. He’s invited other leaders in the Lakeland area to join the center in serving our brothers and sisters in Christ.
“I know that God is blessing us because we are all working as one community,” said Father LaBo.
President of Catholic Charities of Central Florida, Gary Tester agrees. “The harmonization with the parish [has been the greatest blessing] because it provides us with more volunteers,” he shared. “We were able to step in and take managerial responsibility for the food ministry here because the family who had been doing it here at Saint Joseph’s wanted to retire. It’s a great blessing to harmonize and serve the parish that way.”
In addition to cozy gathering spaces and a full kitchen, the center also features an outdoor pavilion that served as a blessing for senior citizens during the pandemic.
“The most important thing is to keep connected and provide a network for them,” said Senior Wellness Services Program Manager, Barbara Cage. “During COVID, financially they suffered, yes, but I think the bigger problem was their isolation and being isolated in their homes. We’ve seen an increase in walkers and wheelchairs since the pandemic now that they are coming out. Starting in January, we will be doing exercise outside and starting some of the programs outside.”
Father LaBo also shared dreams of expanding services and renovating even more ministry space on the second floor.
“The vision is for us to continue to grow, and to develop and to become,” he said. “This is just the beginning, at least in my vision. I would love to see us add more and more services, more organizations, more collaborations so we really become a strong network… The needs of our families continue to grow. And it’s not just financial needs, not just for our senior population, but for everyone.”
By Lana Kaczmarek, Special to the Florida Catholic, December 15, 2021