Francis House helps out in Triangle

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When Barbara Libeau needed help in 1992, a friend recommended the newly opened Francis House in Dumfries, just a block from her apartment. Over the years, the volunteers there have stuck with her through loss and illness.

“They are good people. I don’t think I have ever seen them when they were mad or grouchy,” said Libeau. “They are always nice and polite.”

"Our mission at St. Francis House is to try and help anyone who walks through that door, even if it is just to charge their phone." Francia Salguero

For the past 26 years, the volunteers of Francis House have served their clients in Dumfries, Quantico and Triangle. They help with rent, utilities, food and prescriptions, and also offer help translating, filling out forms and even homework.

During the recent cold snap, Francis House delivered food to disabled and homebound clients to keep them out of the cold. They also opened their doors as usual Jan. 3 despite the snowfall. They provided meals to the Bill Mehr Drop-In Shelter in Woodbridge Jan.6.

“Our mission at Francis House is to try and help anyone who walks through that door, even if it is just to charge their phone,” said Director Francia Salguero. “If we can’t help them, then we try to find them other resources.”

It was the vision of Franciscan Father John F. O’Connor, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, to open Francis House in 1992.

“As I looked around this neighborhood and this community, it became clear to me that there were a lot of people in need of the services we could provide,” said Father O’Connor. “As Pope Francis keeps reminding us, we should reach out to those who are poor, to those who are alienated in any way from society. As Franciscans, that is part of our tradition going back 800 years to the life of St. Francis.”

One of the most popular programs at Francis House is the weekly food pantry, which serves more than 3,400 families a year. Every week, St. Francis of Assisi parishioners bring food to all the weekend Masses. The food is collected and brought to St. Francis House, where it is sorted and assembled into bags by a group of dedicated volunteers on Wednesdays. On average, the house distributes more than 80 bags a week. Typically, the bag contains a can of fruit, a jar of spaghetti sauce, two cans of soup, a pound of pasta, two packs of macaroni and cheese, a box of cereal, a box of Hamburger Helper,  two canned meat products and three cans of vegetables.

According to Salguero, they try to cater the bags to fit the needs of their clients.

“For seniors that don’t have a lot of teeth left, we give them the pancake mix instead of the cereal,” said Salguero. “Those who have high cholesterol, we know they want Cheerios. We just try and help in small ways.”

The line for the food pantry is already long by the time Francis House opens at 9 a.m. Thursday. Before their clients leave, they can go through a table of clothing donations and an assortment of extra food items. Each month the house also features a different high-demand item, such as flour, sugar, toilet paper, cooking oil or detergent.

Monique, one of the clients, has been coming to the food pantry for the past six months for food. She received help paying part of her rent one month.

“When I came to Francia for help with the rent it was easy, no hassle. She didn’t ask me, ‘Well, why can’t you pay your rent? What did you do with your money?’ I really appreciated the help and the kindness that she provided.” 

Francis House’s reputation has made it one of the top resources county officials recommend to people in need. In 2017, the organization helped more than 1,200 families and provided close to $70,000 in emergency assistance. 

Salguero said that none of this would be possible without the generosity of the parishioners.

“There hasn’t been a time when I have gone to the parishioners to say, ‘Hey, we have this situation can you help us?’ and they have said, ‘No, not this time.’ Instead, they ask us, ‘What do you need?’”

The support from parishioners helped Francis House pay for driving lessons for a 17-year-old who might lose her mother to cancer. They helped a mother get an interpreter to obtain a restraining order, and also bought nursery equipment for a young mother in crisis — to name a few.

Francis House also serves the community through education. They host English as a second language classes. In their “Mommy and Me” program, children age 4-5 study with their teachers while interested parents receive special attention from an English tutor. Volunteer tutors also are available during the week to help children with homework.

For Salguero and her family, these past 10 years helping with Francis House have changed the way they experience their faith.

“We believed in God, but it wasn’t until we put our faith into action that we really began to live our faith,” said Salguero. She added that they can’t help everyone, but, “If we can help just one person and make a change, it’s worth it.”

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018