COLORADO SPRINGS. The phrase “chaos is a ladder” has been tossed around a lot during the coronavirus pandemic, but for Catholic Charities of Central Colorado’s Marian House, that really has proven to be the case.
When Colorado’s “Stay-at-Home” order was issued in March, the agency had to quickly transition to distributing sack lunches at several locations around the city. Now meals are once again being served at Marian House, but in a way that looks very different from before due to social-distancing restrictions.
“The number of meals is down significantly. At this point, we’re serving 275 meals on a busy day,” said Andy Barton, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado. “We’re doing eight seatings a day with pre-plated meals served at round tables. People can’t come through twice anymore.”
However, Barton said that he does not view the new operating procedures — however unexpected — in an entirely negative light.
“The pandemic forced our hand in regards to changes we were hoping to make and weren’t sure how to make in our meal service,” he said. “We think both of those changes — moving from cafeteria-style tables to round tables and switching to plated meals — bring more dignity to the meal because we’re treating it more like a restaurant.”
Another benefit to the new meal format is that plated meals lead to a more balanced diet. In the past, clients going through the serving line sometimes skipped over nutritious meal items such as salads and vegetables in favor of desserts, Barton said.
Also, Springs Rescue Mission opened its new Samaritan’s Kitchen and Dining Hall on West Las Vegas Street in downtown Colorado Springs on Sept. 17, bringing added capacity to deliver meals to the homeless.
“Springs Rescue Mission is catering to a chronic, adult homeless population, which in Colorado Springs right now is about 1,500 individuals,” Barton said. “They’ll be serving people who are using the campus as a shelter and a base center. We do think that will reduce some of the adult chronic homeless population that has been using Marian House all these years.”
Having another dining hall nearby with the capacity to seat up to 185 people gives Marian House some breathing room to focus more on individuals and families in crisis, which better aligns with Catholic Charities’ overall mission.
“We actually think that this gives us the opportunity to work upstream,” Barton said. “In all the work that we’re doing as Catholic Charities, we talk about a transformational as opposed to transactional model. We want to get away from just giving things out. Instead, we want to engage people with case managers, health professionals, etc., so that we can be more effective in preventing individuals and families from needing the services of a rescue mission in the first place.”
In order to follow contact-tracing protocols during the pandemic, Catholic Charities has also linked Marian House to the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), the citywide database used by providers of homeless services. Clients now carry a Marian House Meal Card, although no one is turned away without one.
“That’s a huge change because this is the first time in the history of Marian House that we know by name the people who are coming through,” Barton said. “Most importantly, it gives us a contact. If jobs or housing become available, we have a much better ability to follow up with people.”
More information on Marian House and other Catholic Charities services can be found at www.ccharitiescc.org.