The West Side Catholic Center has ministered to those in need for 40 years. After opening in a storefront on Lorain Avenue and West 32nd Street in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood, the ministry has grown over the years to keep pace with the needs of its clients.
John Litten, executive director, estimates 100-150 meals are served twice daily, six days per week. There also are clothing and household distribution programs, outreach and advocacy programs, expressive arts programs and street survival services. Referrals are offered for additional social services and assistance is available to help clients with housing, employment and other needs.
Moriah House, located in storefronts just west of the WSCC Resource Center, has 34 beds and offers shelter for women and families. There are 14 additional beds available, as well as a kitchen and laundry facilities for clients. The back yard features a deck and a play area for children. The bright, spacious, renovated facility is staffed by WSCC.
Staff, members of the WSCC board, benefactors and client representatives welcomed Bishop Nelson Perez to the center July 11. The bishop celebrated Mass in the dining area, enjoyed a continental breakfast, toured the facilities and greeted some clients.
“One year ago today I was announced as the bishop of Cleveland,” he said in his homily. “And today, one year later, I get to celebrate with you. Forty years ago this ministry began. You’re on the front lines dealing with the poorest of the poor, those on the periphery – the ones that many wish weren’t here,” the bishop said.
He recalled a story from when he was a transitional deacon in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, about six months before his ordination as a priest. It was a cold day and he saw some homeless people sleeping near a heating grate outside the cathedral rectory where he lived, so he got some hot chocolate and sandwiches and brought the food to them.
He said someone chastised him, saying that if he continued to feed them, “Those people would keep coming back.” The bishop said he was surprised by the reaction, since Christians are expected to perform works of charity.
“The poor will always be with you,” he said. “Part of the deal (as Christians) is to help them. It’s what we do. That’s the Christian way. We meet people where they are.”
Bishop Perez said 40 years ago, some people heard the call in their hearts and responded by creating the West Side Catholic Center.
“God had a plan. It started in a storefront and now this is a big place that serves a lot of people in need. You offer a human touch and warmth. This is what people of faith do. Thank you for the great witness you give as disciples,” the bishop said.
Litten said hundreds of volunteers and about 35 staff members are dedicated to the WSCC ministry. The mission statement is, “Grounded in faith, hope, love and respect for those we serve, the West Side Catholic Center assists all who come in need of food, clothing, shelter, advocacy and a path to self-sufficiency.”
The Resource Center operates from a building that once housed a bar and bowling alley. Last year it underwent extensive renovation and the new facilities opened in the spring. Improvements included a larger space at the rear of the building (the old bowling alley) for meals, a new commercial kitchen and a new area for sorting and shopping. Litten said the new space displays clothing and household items so that clients can shop for what they need. Clothing is sorted by size and gender, with many items on hangers.
“I’m surprised that people come in and only take what they really need,” said Christopher Koehler, president of the WSCC board, “especially when you consider that they have such need.”
Litten guided the bishop through the Resource Center and across West 32nd Street to Moriah House. He explained that the shelter was named in memory of Moriah Lydon, the 15-year-old daughter of some WSCC benefactors. Moriah, who was a sophomore at Rocky River High School, died suddenly in 2001 during cross country practice from an undetected heart defect.
Litten, who is approaching his first anniversary as executive director, replaced Anita Cook who directed the organization for eight years. Cook also attended the Mass on July 11.
For more information on the West Side Catholic Center, volunteering or donation opportunities, call 216-631-4741 or visit wsccenter.org.