Rock Island deputy, parishes team up to help homeless with Catholic Care Packs

Father Anthony Co, pastor, blesses the first Catholic Care Packs during a recent Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Rock Island. The new ministry to assist the homeless has drawn an enthusiastic response from people throughout the community. (Provided photo)

ROCK ISLAND — If anyone is able to see the big picture when it comes to homelessness, it may be Tim Ott, a deputy in the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office. It’s hard not to see it as he drives throughout the community or visits with the inmates as he works court security.

“When inmates leave jail they may be homeless or in between (residences),” he said. “They may ask to use the phone or they’re cold. They come to jail with no coat on or anything and are released from the jail with whatever they came in with.”

He’s given away his lunch on occasion, as well as his gloves.

“So many of the homeless walk around or travel with their whole life in garbage bags or grocery bags. I’m thinking, ‘We can do better than this.'” — Deputy Tom Ott, holding a Catholic Care Pack

“You want to help, but you’re limited,” he explained.

But when he started to talk to his pastor, Father Anthony Co at Sacred Heart Church in Rock Island, his fellow parishioners, members of the Family of Mary, and friends in neighboring parishes, he found out that there are no limits on kindness, compassion and the Holy Spirit.

The result is Catholic Care Packs, a new ministry based at Sacred Heart Parish. Not only do they aim to provide practical support, Ott said, but spiritual support.

PROVIDING DIGNITY

“So many of the homeless walk around or travel with their whole life in garbage bags or grocery bags,” Ott told The Catholic Post. “I’m thinking, ‘We can do better than this.’”

With the help of a friend he had started to hand out Ziploc bags with socks, granola bars, a prayer card and some basic toiletry items at work. It wasn’t long before he decided a backpack would be sturdier, look nicer and provide dignity to those who carried them.

What went into — and onto — the backpacks grew after a meeting with Father Co and Barb Roedel, director of adult formation and liturgy coordinator at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island.

“There were things I suggested that he hadn’t thought about and things he thought that didn’t occur to me,” Father Co said. “A Mylar blanket — that’s a smart thing. It was his idea. An emergency blanket.”

The priest suggested placing reflective tape in the shape of a cross on the backpacks because people often wear dark clothing, which makes it difficult for motorists to see them on the street.

“He also suggested having medical ID cards inside the packs,” Ott said, which would allow emergency personnel to call the person by name if injured.

Ott’s wife Missy, who now oversees assembly, said the backpacks are filled with hats, gloves and scarves in addition to socks, and bottles of water and snacks. Toiletries include a toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash, deodorant, shampoo and soap, and baby wipes.

For spiritual support, they add a Miraculous Medal, prayer cards, and rosaries made by a parishioner. Recipients may not know how to pray the rosary, she said, but they’ve probably seen them and know they are a prayer aid.

“Everything is blessed,” Missy said. “The backpacks are also blessed when they are completed.”

BROAD SUPPORT

The backpacks have been given to local law enforcement and go into the squad cars to be distributed to anyone in need. Ott has commitments from police departments in Moline, East Moline and Rock Island, as well as fire departments in Moline and Rock Island.

He anticipates that the fire stations will become places where people can bring their backpacks to be restocked.

Ott has also had meetings with law enforcement across the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa. “That’s where most of the homeless shelters are,” he explained.

Another visit took him to the office of Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport for “a really nice conversation.”

“He was very supportive of the program,” Ott said. “I was looking for his blessing, which he gave.”

Father Co said the response to the Catholic Care Packs has been amazing, with everyone wanting to give something. Ott was humbled when even a smaller parish like St. Anne in East Moline delivered two carloads of supplies.

Graphic artist Chris Mandle of Sacred Heart designed the logo and had boxes made for the vestibule of area churches to receive other donations.

All of the supplies for the backpacks are stored in a room at Sacred Heart rectory. Father Co provided the seed money for the backpacks.

While the idea was his, Ott emphasizes that the success for the Catholic Care Packs belongs elsewhere.

“This is the work of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “This is not something you do on your own.”

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