A local teenager continues a family tradition by collecting donations for archdiocesan ministry from homeless men.
Over the past few weeks, Owen Applestein, a senior from Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, has been making fresh sandwiches and collecting personal hygiene items for St. John’s Hospice (SJH).
Operated by the Archdiocese of Catholic Social Services (CSS), the downtown Philadelphia outreach center has provided care to homeless men for more than 50 years.
Each day of the week, SJH – a beneficiary of the Appeal from Catholic charities — distributes more than 300 meals to its residential and day clients, while providing case management, on-site nursing care, daily showers and a mailroom. The facility is home to some 250 men transitioning from homelessness to independent living each year and has been a lifeline for clients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Applestein said he took on fundraising for his Eagle Scout project, a goal he had envisioned “throughout (his) scouting career.”
A member of the historic Merion Liberty Troop (Boy Scouts of America Troop 71) at Merion Station, Applestein says he knew he wanted to focus on “(going out) to meet people and give back to the community” while winning the highest rank a Boy Scout can achieve.
Like any savvy scout would, he turned to a wise mentor for guidance: his mother.
“She would help me with ideas, and when she was working in the city before COVID, she would come to St. John’s two or three days a week to (volunteer) in the kitchen,” Applestein said.
Choosing a project that benefited SJH immediately appealed to him, he said.
“I didn’t grow up in Philadelphia; I grew up in the suburbs, where there’s a lot less homelessness,” Applstein said. “When I was traveling in town with my mother, we saw people who needed help. … I wanted to have a lasting impact.
Applestein’s mother reached out to SJH’s Director of Food Services, Permanent Deacon Anthony Willoughby, who was grateful for the support.
During the pandemic, now in its third year, “there have been losses” among SJH’s clientele, he said.
“We’ve lost guys here and…on the street,” Deacon Willoughby said.
At the same time, there have been positives, he noted.
“Some of the guys got housing, and some are working now,” he said.
Yet even with “a lot of good things,” he said, “the struggle is still in the streets. There are still guys out there who are hurting.
And that’s exactly why Applestein wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps at SJH.
“It’s pretty cool that the next generation is coming back to help out,” he said.