From food aid to accessible dental services, Catholic Charities’ newest outreach a beacon of hope to Detroit families, individuals in greatest need
DETROIT — Burt Tyler, a disabled veteran, found out about Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Center for the Works of Mercy through a friend from the veterans association.
Randall Morgan discovered it when his parole officer referred him to the center’s food pantry and case management services.
Jeff Smith needed new teeth, and heard the center’s free dental clinic might be able to help.
At 8642 Woodward Ave., the corporal works of mercy aren’t just a theory.
Once the location of the Detroit Central City Clubhouse, the building now houses Catholic Charities’ newest ministry in Midtown Detroit — a one-stop shop for those in need to find critical services and a Christian face who cares. As its name suggests, the newly dedicated center’s goal is to be Christ’s hands and feet in the community, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked and visiting those in prison.
Along with multiple community partners, the Center for the Works of Mercy serves as a one-stop shop to meet the needs of underprivileged families of southeast Michigan, particularly in Detroit, said Adam Perry, the center’s director.
“The center is designed around the corporal works of mercy, so our biggest goal is to serve individuals in a very dignified way,” Perry said.
Since opening in January, the Center for the Works of Mercy hosts a clothing closet, food pantry, the Malta Dental and Medical Clinic, a case manager to help clients navigate through social service systems, the pro-life Project Hope ministry for mothers in need, the Wayne County Jail and Outreach Ministry, Catholic Charities’ Retired Senior Volunteer Program and a community space for the neighborhood.
Perry said the center is continuing to add partners, and recently hired a clinical therapy director in order to offer mental health and substance abuse services, which could include space for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
Thanks to the dedication of a few staff members and volunteers, the center has become a place where the needs of the local neighborhood can be addressed, all in one place and accessible via public transportation with a bus stop right out front.
“A lot of times, clients come in needing food and clothing — which they need because they don’t have a job even though they want one — but they can’t get a job because they don’t have a driver’s license or birth certificate or even stable housing,” said Nick Herman, a case manager at the center. “As people come into the food and clothing pantry, we try to learn a little bit more about their situation and then recommend them to a case manager.”
Randall Morgan discovered the center after first being referred by his parole officer to the Wayne County Jail and Outreach Ministry. Now 61, Morgan was incarcerated for 26 years, and needs help adjusting to the technological and social changes of the past two decades — including how to use his phone and email.
In addition to food and clothing, Herman was able to help Morgan get his driver’s license.
“At first I thought, ‘I can’t go in there, I’m not Catholic.’ But I have never been more pleased with an organization,” Morgan said. “They do stuff from counseling me and my girl, providing food … When I got here, I needed my license. I needed some practice driving, and (Herman) said, ‘Come practice by driving my car.’”
Herman also accompanies Morgan as he tries to use his experience in prison to give back to the community –– Morgan is specifically passionate about getting his poetry published and helping keep young men and women out of trouble.
“He is really passionate about helping young people in the community, and he comes in with big ideas often,” Herman said. “He goes, ‘Nick, I need your help getting a business card; my girl is going to pay for it.’ So we went on Vistaprint and we set him up with a business card and he has a GoFundMe, and he goes out and just talks to people. He tries to help as many young people as he can.”
Like Morgan, Herman said most of his clients are referrals or walk-ins. They see the signs on Woodward that list the services offered inside, and peek in out of curiosity.
Visiting the center for the first time on Aug. 17, Burt Tyler told Detroit Catholic he was picking up food and clothing and had scheduled a dental appointment for later in the month.
“It helps because I am on a fixed income. I am a disabled veteran, and I don’t get much money to pay rent, utilities and food. When I run short on food, this place will help,” Tyler said.
The center’s dental clinic, medical clinic and medicine dispensary, sponsored by the Order of Malta, see patients by appointment each week. The dispensary is stocked with supplies donated after people pass away, leaving unexpired medication, said Nancy Harmon, dental director for Malta Dental and Medical Clinic. As long as they aren’t Schedule 2 controlled substances, the clinic can use them, she said.
“The people we see can’t afford the copays or have lost their medications on the street,” Harmon said.
One of the most needed services the clinic provides is denture fittings, Harmon said, adding clients “bound out of the clinic, ecstatic to have a smile again.”
Jeff Smith, who was getting his last denture fitting before he gets them placed at the end of August, has been hoping for new dentures for over a year and a half after losing his former set. He told Detroit Catholic getting his new teeth is like Christmas, his eyes welling with tears.
“It will make me feel better, more confident,” Smith said. “It gives me more self-esteem. I am a little anxious to see it.”
Teeth make a big difference, Smith said, adding he believes his new smile will help him get better jobs and promotions.
Dr. Shanelle Pearse, DDS, began volunteering at the clinic eight years ago, first as a master’s student and then as a University of Detroit Mercy dental student. She tries to volunteer her time at least once a month.
Dr. Pearse said by the time people find the Center for the Works of Mercy, they are past preventive care and upkeep –– often clients come in with jaw issues or are already in need of dentures.
“We see so many unique cases because you are seeing the full population,” Dr. Pearse said. “You aren’t just seeing a subsect of people who have a thousand dollars to throw around –– you really are seeing the world as it is.”
Dr. Pearse said offering her services as a dentist is a small way she can give back to the community, just as all the Center for the Works of Mercy’s volunteers and case workers do.
“I love it here, and it helps me find purpose and passion,” Pearse said. “I always knew I wanted to be a dentist, and it is wonderful to help the people here. A lot of people, when they go on mission, will go overseas, but there are a lot of people who need our help right here. They are just looking for a smile, for a chance to get their dignity back.”
Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Annual Celebration
In-person registration for Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Annual Celebration on Sept. 11 at the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit is sold out, but registration for the virtual livestream is still available for $25.
This event will include a performance by Catholic singer, storyteller, and inspirational speaker ValLimar Jansen. Proceeds from the event support Catholic Charities’ offices and ministries throughout Metro Detroit, which serve an estimated 20,000 individuals each year.