The St. Mary Outreach Center is providing a day shelter for the homeless in Fond du Lac. (Submitted photo)

The homeless in Fond du Lac have a warm place to spend their days this winter, thanks to Holy Family Catholic Community.

The former St. Mary’s Rectory is providing day shelter for the homeless in the community.

The St. Mary’s Outreach Center, located downtown inside St. Mary’s Church at 59 E. Merrill Ave., is currently available to clients who use the Salvation Army’s overnight warming center.

According to Sarah Razner, director of communications and marketing at Holy Family, at the start of the pandemic, many of the organizations that offered shelter to those who were homeless in Fond du Lac had to shut down or limit their accessibility. Wanting to make sure they could continue stay warm, Holy Family opened the doors at St. Mary’s as a temporary shelter.

“As many of the same organizations still have limited accessibility due COVID-19, Holy Family, along with other local churches, the Fond du Lac Public Library, Solutions Center, St. Vincent de Paul, Fond du Lac Family YMCA, the city of Fond du Lac, and the Salvation Army of Fond du Lac County, began discussing how they could provide a space for the homeless to keep warm and stay safe during the day,” she said. “With the weather getting colder, and without any signs of the pandemic ending soon, Holy Family knew it needed to open the St. Mary’s Outreach Center as soon as possible.”

The center opened Monday, Dec. 14, in the former rectory, and is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The facility is also used for the Holy Family Blessed Bites program, offering a meal and care/cleaning items each Monday to members of the community who are in need of them. A portion of the Saint Mary’s Outreach Center space houses items for this program and serves as a drop-off point for donations.

Razner said there is a great need for day shelters due to the pandemic, resulting in few places where individuals can find shelter during the week.

Guests do not have to make reservations but must be clients of the Salvation Army Warming Shelter. Everyone has a pass to prove this when they arrive. Coffee is available and local organizations will provide food for volunteers to share with the guests.

“Already St. Vincent de Paul has donated a microwave for the clients to use, and the Salvation Army will give each client a bag of snacks to eat on throughout the day,” said Razner. “The Fond du Lac Public Library has provided us with games and reading materials for the clients at the center. In the future, we hope to offer programming with the help of community partners, who could assist the clients in a variety of ways, from finding a job to a place to live. On Mondays and Wednesdays, we offer Mass at St. Mary Church, and the clients are welcome to attend if they so choose.”

The Outreach Center’s day shelter is staffed by volunteers from the parish. According to Razner, many stepped forward to help oversee operations.

“As we have seen with our meal program, Blessed Bites, whenever we ask our parishioners to help, they always answer the call with more generosity than we could ever anticipate,” she said.

Before working at the center, all volunteers received training and Razner held a practice session to prepare for the opening.

Deciding to provide a day shelter was an easy one, said Razner, quoting the parish mission statement.

“We are a Catholic community empowered through the Holy Spirit to love God and to follow Jesus Christ through faith, worship and witness,” she said. “If we are going to live out this mission, we must care for those who are in need, which includes the homeless in our community.”

Holy Family plans to keep the day shelter open as long as the Salvation Army’s Warming Shelter stays open.