Natalie Hoefer
The Criterion
October 25, 2023 // National

Former Laundromat in Richmond Is Now Catholic Outreach Center

Natalie Hoefer
The Criterion

RICHMOND (OSV News) – An abandoned laundromat might seem an odd place to transform into a Society of St. Vincent de Paul facility for community outreach.

But then, the story of David’s House in Richmond is all about transformation.

Yes, there is the changing of a building from decrepit to gleaming white and welcoming. But there is also the transformation of a site of despair – the unsolved mystery of a missing woman last seen at the laundromat in 2001 – to one of hope where those in poverty will find a helping hand.

Outside of David’s House in Richmond, Ind., Sept. 10, 2023, Brandie Doan, center, explains how certain vegetables can be used in meal preparation. David’s House, a new ministry of the Tri-County Good Samaritans conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will offer fresh produce in an impoverished food-desert area of the city and offer various programs for residents to help them get themselves out of poverty. (OSV News photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Criterion)

And there is the story of David Marshall, who selected the site. His own transformation and tragic death at age 37 led to the naming of the new facility in his honor.

Then, there are the untold stories to come of those whose lives will be changed through David’s House.

“It took a village to get to this point,” said Tony Talbert, President of the TriCounty Good Samaritans conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that launched the ministry. He spoke during a blessing ceremony at the facility in September.

“But now (this site is) going to allow us to help people that are marginalized, to help the impoverished find hope, to find joy in the works that we do here.”

Father Sengole Gnanaraj, administrator of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Richmond, Ind., says a prayer before using holy water to bless David’s House in Richmond Sept. 10, 2023. Tony Talbert, looking on at right, is president of the Tri-County Good Samaritans conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which opened the center as a new ministry. (OSV News photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Criterion)

Those works will include providing healthy food in what is considered a “food desert” area, conducting cooking classes with an eye toward nutritional but budget-friendly items, and offering SVdP’s Changing Lives Forever program to help individuals transform and pull themselves out of poverty.

The journey to David’s House began in July of 2019 when the Tri-County Good Samaritan conference was founded. It is comprised of members from three parishes in three counties in east-central Indiana: St. Bridget of Ireland in Liberty (Union County); St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Richmond (Wayne County); and St. Gabriel in Connersville (Fayette County).

During the blessing ceremony, Talbert shared with the roughly 30 participants a saying he recently heard: “The great ones don’t say, ‘I accept what I can’t change.’ They say, ‘I change what I can’t accept.’ What we as Tri-County Good Samaritans can’t accept is poverty.”

The conference first built on
a furniture ministry already established at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

“We help families that are marginalized and impoverished get gently used furniture,” Talbert explained. “When they come to our warehouse to pick up their furniture, we don’t want to make that a transaction like, ‘Here’s your furniture, see you later.’ We learn more about them and how else we can help them.”

“So, that furniture program is now a way for us to build relationships to get them into our other programs” at David’s House, he said.

One of the programs that will be offered is Changing Lives Forever. The 18-week course teaches qualified applicants how to lift themselves out of poverty, then offers graduates the help of a mentor for 18-24 months, Talbert explained. The second major program is using the facility’s new kitchen to teach those in need how to cook healthy meals on a budget.

“If impoverished people eat better, they spend less on health care and more on other needs like housing and transportation,” Talbert noted. Classes have not begun yet, but Talbert said the hope is to offer them monthly or even more often, depending on interest and the availability of instructors.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s administrator Father Sengole Gnanaraj called David’s House a “huge blessing for the community.”

Richmond has ministries for the poor led by other denominations, he told The Criterion, Indianapolis’ archdiocesan newspaper. “But this is the first Catholic ministry that is going to directly impact people. These (volunteers) are the hands and feet of Christ.”

During the ceremony, Father Gnanaraj called for God to bless “this building, all those who work here, and those who enter here. May they all be in peace and in God’s providence.”

That prayer was already being answered, according to two women deeply impacted by the presence of David’s House.

“My sister came up missing
here (at the laundromat) 22 years ago – July 22, 2001,” recalled Tammie Hughes of her sibling, Marilyn Renee Nicole “Niqui” McCown. Hughes, who can see the facility from her porch, said “it’s turned into a beautiful sight.”

“It’s positive because of the simple fact that (our family has) had so much negativity from what happened with my sister,” she said. “We need some kind of positivity and hope. And that’s what this place has given us.”

Vicky Greer agreed. She is the mother of David Marshall, for whom David’s House is named.

“David liked to help people – that’s just who he was,” she said. “This facility, having it named for him, it means a lot.”

Talbert said he and his wife, Donna, worked to convince Marshall to become a spokesperson for SVdP and “communicate the message that mindsets can be changed, and (doing so) will bring greater fulfillment to life,” he said.

Talbert recalled the night last year when Marshall finally said yes.

“I was driving. He had just said to me, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll be a spokesperson for St. Vincent de Paul.’

“The next second we were hit by a drunk driver. David was killed. It was April 23, the same day (the) St. Vincent de Paul (Society) was founded in 1833.”

Greer said her son “would absolutely love what’s being done here” at David’s House.

It will be a special place, too, for those in the Vaile neighborhood where it’s located, said Acacia St. John, Program Director for Forward Wayne County and a member of the Wayne County Foundation. “It’s a high poverty area, a lot of low-income residents,” said St. John, who was at the blessing and opening of the center.

Natalie Hoefer is a reporter for The Criterion, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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