Former St. Joe classroom given new life, serving those in need



Father Nate Edquist blesses the new St. Vincent DePaul’s annex room.

Story and photos by WNLP’s Bob Wellinski 

“I didn’t think a St. Joe classroom could look like this,” joked Father Nate Edquist soon after he blessed the new St. Vincent DePaul’s annex room in LaPorte earlier this month.

The former St. Joseph Catholic School classroom has found new life after members of the LaPorte SVDP renovated the room to become a space to serve the community’s needy.

Father Edquist, who once sat in the room as a second grade student and is now associate pastor of the LaPorte Catholic Community, was clearly moved to be able to bless it and bless those who will serve the poor.

“We see these classrooms in a school that was once very up and going, and then have a renewal of this space, kind of signals a renewal for the lives of people who will be served here. So, people who are suffering, for whatever reason and in whatever way, can come here for some type of renewal for their life. We make things new for them by offering the food or clothing that they need — things that will help them lead a sustained normal life,” said Father Edquist.

The 26 feet by 34 feet room will complement the ministry’s food pantry across the hall and be used for clothing, household items (such as small kitchen appliances), shoes, toys, and decorations.

All items are free. The new annex is open on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., while the food pantry distribution is on Mondays from 4 to 5 p.m.

Anyone with items to donate can contact the Sharpe’s at (219) 369-3347.

SVDP board member Suzanne Sharp feels a little divine intervention brought the project together. The group has been inundated with donated clothing and she said they felt they needed a place for the clients to shop for clothing and other household items.

“This is terrific because we had to lay stuff out on tables. It looked like Macy’s here,” joked Jake Neary, a SVDP member.

“This whole thing is like miracle the way it came together. I get goosebumps talking about it,” said Suzanne. After several SVDP members discussed different options for a location, she approached Father Ian Willams, pastor of the LaPorte Catholic Community, with the idea of utilizing the vacated room. Suzanne’s husband, Dick, explained that “Father was thinking the same thing at the same time. It must have been a spiritual thing.”

Neary said Father Williams has been a big supporter of the SVDP ministry and the room is perfect for them, especially with it being located near an entrance door with a ramp leading to the sidewalk. He explained the ramp makes it easy for the group to bring in deliveries, but it also makes it easily accessible for clients.

The rooms are a far cry from the group’s early beginnings, which started nearly 39 years ago by Deacon Bob Bucheit.

Up until about four years ago, the food pantry ran out of the rectory garage and basement. Everything had to be carried out of the low-ceilinged basement into the garage, and then back into the basement, after the food distribution. Clients waited, sometimes up to an hour, in summer’s extreme heat and northwest-Indiana-polar-cold.

Nancy Batten and Diane Labuda gave the room a fresh coat of paint, then added a mural of the tree of life with prayers. Neary and Sharp spent hours scraping off construction adhesive, which had once secured the classroom’s chalkboard to the wall, and preparing the walls for painting. An Indianapolis company came in to remove the old carpeting and seal the concrete floor. Display racks and shelving were purchased for a great price from a clothing shop going out of business.

Suzanne credits the groups 30-plus members. “It’s a team effort. Everybody involve with SVDP from all three LaPorte parishes are so supportive and so active. We couldn’t get it done without those people.”

Father Edquist expressed his appreciation for the group and its mission for the community:

“Definitely there’s a sense of pride in our community and especially the great people who serve the poor. Thank you all for your great commitment. It’s a testament to the great diversity of our faith, because we’re not just about coming to church. That faith that we profess has to be put into action concretely. That’s the way SVDP society does that.”


2 Responses to “Former St. Joe classroom given new life, serving those in need”

  1. Charlie Maslankowski

    Oct 28. 2020

    Such kindness and giving by these dedicated people. Kudos to Jake Neary as he has done tremendous things to help a relative in need demonstrating his true christian values.
    Truly a kind man / angel on earth.👏👌🌟

    Reply to this comment
  2. Deacon Frank

    Oct 28. 2020

    Well done good and faithful servants!

    Reply to this comment

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