Carpenter knows where the bus passes are.
She knows where the sugar for the cereal and coffee can be found.
She knows where the extra towels and soap wait for those who want to take a shower.
She knows where the mail is for the 50 people, give or take, who call the shelter their permanent mail stop.
She knows who is next to use the laundry, now limited because one of the two washing machines is broken.
These, among other things, are all services Carpenter and her team of volunteers offer the homeless population of Fort Wayne at the Ave Maria Hospitality House across the street from St. Mary Mother of God Church and its attached soup kitchen. The daytime homeless shelter is open Monday through Thursday from about 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Winter hours may change, but whenever it is open, the mission has been the same since its inception in 2008.
Father Philip Widmann, who passed away in 2021, got the project off the ground, giving it to Carpenter. “He trusted me with the job that he knew I could do,” she said.
Carpenter was working at St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen one Sunday morning and stepped outside, speaking to those receiving soup. Her takeaway from the conversation was that the homeless lacked a welcoming place to spend the day. Meetings with the parish council, prayer, and guidance by the Holy Spirit led to Carpenter’s job at the helm of the house, a structure owned by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
Regarding her job, “I love these guys,” she said. From the coffee station, a visitor smiled and said, “Wouldn’t trade it for nothing.”
Love is a clear motivator for Carpenter. While Catholic, she exudes an ecumenical love, saying we are the feet, hands, body, and heart of Jesus. “I believe,” she said, “that He wants us to care about people, and I do.”
She pictures Jesus strong, healthy, and walking along a seashore. “I can’t do everything He did,” she commented. “But I can do what I do and do it well.”
Those who enjoy the services of the house return that love. Carpenter will be 90 next June, and when she arrives, “the guys come and help me in,” she said. With medical issues that have begun to crop up, her retirement may be this year, but even if she does retire, Carpenter plans to be a regular volunteer.
“Even if I only come once a week when I retire, I still want to be able to do that,” she said. “If they want to change it when I’m gone, they can.”
Everyone is respectful of the matriarch. “I run a very tight ship,” she said. “They don’t get away with much when I’m here … or when I’m not here.” Violators of the rules can be expelled for a calendar year, unlike the potential for lifetime expulsion at the Rescue Mission. Carpenter feels it is her Christian duty to be forgiving. Rules are basic: no swearing, no filthy or off-color language, respect each other, respect the house, respect her, and respect the volunteers.
Some who seek rest and rejuvenation come each day, while others come less frequently, but still regularly. “They feel welcomed, accepted, cared about,” she said. “It is home to them.”
Even though the homeless can eat three meals a day at the Rescue Mission, like any doting grandmother’s home, good food plays a central role. Visitors like their food sweet or hot, she said, and sugar and hot sauce consumption speak to that end. Whether chili or cookies, comfort food seems to be around regularly. The next thing she would like to make for them is a pot of greens: “I don’t like them, but I’ll cook them.”
Carpenter said she is used to cooking for a big family. The resident of Fort Wayne’s north side has five biological and three foster children, who all “see me frequently … we are very close.”
One person at Ave Maria she is close to is her “right hand,” Ricky. Ricky came to Ave Maria an alcoholic and enlisted Carpenter’s aid for accountability, promising not to visit if he had been drinking. Eventually a success story of Alcoholics Anonymous, he has been clean for four years. Much of the work – from cooking to organizing to assisting Carpenter – would not be accomplished without him.
“I was a pain in the butt, though,” he said with a laugh.
One thing that is no laughing matter is raising funds to keep the operation going. Donations go directly back into caring for the homeless. An event in the near-future is set to keep the mission going strong.
The day-respite shelter will be having a benefit at St. Mary Mother of God Church. A food buffet, cash bar, silent auction, and bake sale will all be part of the festivities held from 7-11 p.m. on Saturday, October 22. The DeeBees will offer their musical talents, with dancing for those who wish to take part. Tickets are $25 per couple and $15 per individual, and donations are also accepted. Those interested can contact Dottie Carpenter at 260-705-1690 or Judy Finley at 260-705-6344.
For those who cannot attend the benefit but would still like to help this great mission, donations are always welcome, and can be delivered to Ave Maria Hospitality House or at the front desk at St. Mary Mother of God Parish office. Monetary donations and goods such as snacks, soft drinks, coffee, cold cuts, peanut butter, hygiene products, laundry detergent, socks, or underwear all go directly to the cause of enhancing the dignity of those in need.
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