The Joseph House, a nonprofit social service refuge for poor, homeless and needy city residents, has closed its southeast Baltimore location, forcing at least 150 families to look elsewhere for food.
Sister Mary Elizabeth Gintling, the program's founder, said only one nun could be placed at the city location, and the house's three resident volunteers, one employee, and three or four daily volunteers could not meet the need.
"Our places tend to grow when word gets out because there is little red tape, lots of personal interest, and we tend to take people under our wing to help them," she said.
"On the average week, we would serve somewhere between 150 to 180 families, usually around 50 people a day," said Sister Marilyn Bouchard, who has worked at the city location for the 4 1/2 years.
Opened in 1966 and funded by private donations, the center at St. Michael's School, at Wolfe and Lombard streets, gave food; offered counseling, shower and laundry facilities for the homeless; made social service referrals; provided financial aid; and had a lunches-to-go program.
The fact that only one nun lived there also was a factor in the center's closing July 1. "It wasn't fair to ask [Sister Marilyn] to live alone, because nuns are used to community living," Sister Mary Elizabeth said. Sister Marilyn has joined the Salisbury Joseph House.
Although crime was a problem in the neighborhood, it was not a factor in the closure, officials said.
Sister Barbara English, director of the Julie Community Center; another city homeless shelter, said the Joseph House will be missed. "They managed to follow families with precision, which allowed them to help families help themselves. They had a very special touch."
A number of the Joseph House's services will be transferred to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which is renovating the St. Michael's School and plans to re-open on Aug. 1.
Food and clothing distribution, financial aid and referrals and counseling will be available at that location.
It's not clear if the lunches-to-go program and shower and laundry services for the homeless will be restored.
Other local pantries, notified of the closure, have extended their hours to deal with those formerly helped by the Joseph House.
"We made sure we would be open more often this month, and Assisi House has done the same," said Sister Barbara of the Julie Community Center.
In a news release issued this week, Sister Mary Elizabeth, an 85-year-old Roman Catholic nun, said the move will enable the Joseph House to provide better service in Salisbury, where a job training facility was recently opened.
Referred to as Joseph House II, the new agency will aid the "chronically unemployed" in their search for consistent work.
Called the "Mother Teresa of the Eastern Shore," Sister Mary Elizabeth opened the first Joseph House at 2009 McCulloh St. on May 1, 1966, the feast day of Joseph the Worker.
In 1976, the Joseph House relocated its headquarters to Salisbury but maintained the branch at St. Michael's School since 1988.
Salisbury's Joseph House is run by about 350 full- and part-time volunteers.