When a customer walks into the store at Daystar Community Program in Cairo, he or she will always receive a smile and a “what can I do for you”? And they mean it.
Amy Conoway works at the store, greeting customers, meeting needs and fulfilling requests for food or assistance along with others, including Sherry Miller, Daystar director.
More than a store, it is a place where people can feel accepted and that someone will really try to meet their needs, people like Peter Brown who needed some bedding, even if that bedding would be used on the ground, a park bench or under an overpass if he could find no shelter.
Daystar, one of the agencies that receives funding from The Catholic Service and Ministry Appeal, was allocated $129,000 in 2016 — see breakdown of funding at the bottom of this page.
Conoway worked with Brown to put together bedding that could be used outside, and she also filled a bag with food that he could take with him. He is just one of a number of people who find assistance at Daystar.
Hungry people can also find a home-cooked hot meal across the street at the Kitchen Table four days a week.
Started by Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, the late Sister Jeanette Schutte and Sister Mary Carolyn Welhoelter, Sarah Miller now cooks and runs the kitchen. Each person who crosses the threshold can pick up two meals at noon as carryouts. “It’s not easy” to keep up with all of the needs, Miller said.
She starts about 7 a.m. sweeping and mopping the floors before the day begins. About 115 meals a day are fixed as carryouts, and for those who have no way of getting to the Kitchen Table, Miller will deliver them.
One person on Miller’s carryout list has heart problems and Stage 4 cancer. She is on Hospice, renting a home that is minimally heated. Dark and heated with one very old space heater, Johna welcomes Miller into her home.
Miller said Johna had to decide whether she wanted heat or light. She opted for heat. “If they would take Daystar away,” Johna said, “people wouldn’t know what to do.”
Johna has no refrigerator and no stove. If she “cooks,” she uses a hotplate. In cold weather, she puts her food outside or in a cooler by the front door. She has been receiving the meals since last summer, Johna said. “It’s a great thing.”
Johna appreciates the visit almost as much as the food. “They talk to me when I am in despair. They talk to me. They are a godsend.”
Miller returned to Daystar to wait for the commodities truck. She wanted to be there for the delivery for the food pantry at Daystar and the Kitchen Table. The truck comes from the Tri-State Food Bank in Indiana.
Daystar can purchase 75 pounds of meat at 16 cents per pound from the Food Bank, Miller said. This day’s order included seven cases of chickens, chicken leg quarters and raisins. It should make for some interesting meals. Daystar also receives boxes of food for low-income seniors who have been screened and appear on an approved list.
Four years ago, they received 54 boxes for seniors. Now they receive 96 boxes, and they have a waiting list for boxes, Miller said. The people who receive meals from the Kitchen are grateful. “Having the Kitchen means they get to eat.”
Daystar also operates a mobile food pantry in Alexander County with some of the donations and commodities on the last Tuesday of the month.
People who have received help from Daystar or the Kitchen Table give back when they return to work. Someone drops off a donation but lets her know that will be the last one for awhile because the man lost his job.
Without the CSMA life for the people in the far southern reaches of the Diocese of Belleville would be more than difficult. The donations that Daystar receives give the staff the opportunity to serve the poorest of the poor, becoming the life support and community for people who otherwise would be alone and in greater need.
Johna said she “thanks God” for the people of Daystar and the Kitchen Table who make sure that Christ remains visible to all of the people.
The 2017 CSMA begins on the first weekend of Lent. The donations people make in parishes give people like Johna and others like her a chance to be afforded the dignity that every person deserves.