Clare House, Bloomington closes: “They changed my life” — founder
By: By Jennifer Willems
CAPTION: On the last day of food distribution, Tina Sipula, founder and director of Clare House, responds to a well-wisher after thanking people for their trust in and support of Clare House. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems. More photos have been posted on The Catholic Post’s Facebook page.)
BLOOMINGTON — The non-perishable food items that once filled the basement of Clare House are gone, but the house at 703 E. Washington St. isn’t empty by any means.
“It’s just love left in the house — and you can feel it,” Tina Sipula said after an emotional morning of giving thanks, providing food for Thanksgiving dinners to those who needed it, and saying goodbye to the people she has served for the last 37 years.
Before the final food distribution on Nov. 25, Sipula stood on the porch of Clare House and expressed her gratitude to the people who were in line, exchanging smiles and waves with them. As the people moved forward to receive their bags of food at the side door, she mingled with them and took photos.
“They changed my life,” she told The Catholic Post. “They brought such grace and wisdom to me and taught me so much about life and survival and struggle and prayer and the strength of community, and that we really are brothers and sisters.”
Sipula added that this gives her much more reason to give thanks than receive it.
“It’s been very humbling,” she said.
After everyone had been served, volunteers lined up again to pass bags of groceries and supplies from the basement to waiting vans, which took everything to Pat Turner at Center for Hope in Bloomington. Sipula added that any remaining food at the warehouse was sent there, too.
The two women met when they volunteered at a benefit 25 years ago. Sipula’s work at Clare House inspired Turner to start a pantry in her basement.
“Now she has two facilities and she helps a lot of people not only with food but clothing and all kinds of necessities of life,” Sipula said. “She’s just a great, great lady. I want to help her in any way I can.”
The Catholic parishes of Bloomington and Normal have stepped forward to sponsor the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen, an outgrowth of Clare House. Started in 1983 at Holy Trinity Church in Bloomington, Loaves and Fishes has provided lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the parish hall of St. Mary Church, 527 W. Jackson, since 2001.
NO QUESTIONS ASKED
The founder and director of Clare House, Sipula announced her retirement Oct. 9. She plans to spend more time with Bob Sampson, her husband of eight years, and hopes to do some writing about her experiences.
When she opened Clare House in 1978, she provided shelter for homeless women and women affected by domestic violence and then transitioned to housing for mothers and their children. The food pantry started 20 years ago.
While she might be passing the torch to other community organizations, Sipula is holding on to many memories made over the last 37 years.
She remembers the time “John” fell in the middle of Washington Street just as they were preparing to distribute food. Without a word, all the other men in line came forward to form a protective circle around him and then moved him out of traffic to the grass in front of Clare House.
“John” didn’t remember what had happened, so Sipula told him. Then she put her arms around him and said, “I want you to love yourself as much as these people love you. I love you.”
“One thing I’ve learned is people have loving compassion for each other without any judgment,” she said. “We all come from the same place.”
No proof of need was ever required or questions asked at the door of Clare House. That continues at Loaves and Fishes, where people share food, their stories, and struggles, Sipula said.
“It becomes very supportive and like family,” she said.
Monetary donations may be sent to Loaves and Fishes, c/o Father Tony Lee, Holy Trinity Church, 711 N. Main St., Bloomington, IL 61701. Please make checks payable to Loaves and Fishes. Online gifts may be made by visiting