Grant Spotlights: St Francis Xavier College Church

Each year, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet award funds to programs serving women and children in the St. Louis metro area through the Feuerbacher Grant Program. The program was established through a bequest from Father Ed Feuerbacher and, since its inception in 2005, the program has supported 49 organizations that are acquainted with a CSJ sister or associate and consistent with CSJ values.

In this grant spotlight, we feature St. Francis Xavier College Church, a 2017 recipient of a Feuerbacher Grant, funding programs to help the poor get access to proper identification documents.

St. Francis Xavier College Church is a Spirit-filled faith community that serves over 70 zip codes in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The College Church is known for its joyful liturgies, beautiful worship space, and service to the poor of the city.  St. Francis Xavier College Church was awarded a Feuerbacher Grant in 2017.  Christine Dragonette, director of social ministry for St. Francis Xavier College Church, answered some questions about the grant money and the programs they're running.

By Abby Blaes, Communications Intern

Q: How has the grant money you received been used or how will it be used?

Christine Dragonette: So all of the money that we received from the Feuerbacher grant goes directly to the cost of birth certificates from any states and Missouri state IDs for people experiencing homelessness or low income.  So basically we have walk-in hours every Tuesday and Wednesday.  And people from the community come to see us and a volunteer works with them one-on-one to navigate the process of getting a state ID and/or birth certificate and to provide a voucher to cover the costs of the documents.  So people come to us for assistance because maybe they often need their identification for a number of reasons: accessing housing, employment, education, social services. 

And these people experience barriers to getting that identification that are unique to people with low income and people who are transient in some way.  Maybe they don’t have a safe place to keep their documents.  Maybe they were recently released from prison or jail and they don’t have any documents.  They might be moving from place to place.  And so navigating that process and getting those document together to prove who they are can be a challenge.  Sometimes people come to us without anything with their name on.  They might not have a utility bill or those other documents that most people might use.  So we have to get a little creative.  And we cover the cost which may seem like a small cost.  It’s $11 for Missouri state ID and anywhere from around $15 - $30 for a birth certification depending on the state.  But that cost is meaningful for someone without income or with a low income.  So all of those pieces are important to what we do.  But all of the money goes to the cost of those documents.

Q: Describe some of the other programs that St. Francis Xavier College Church is implementing today.

CD: The ID program is our main, cornerstone program.  It’s where we spend the most time and resources and human power.  But in the winter, we have an emergency shelter called Savior Winter Inn which is part of a bigger network of emergency shelters to provide some extra help over the winter when it’s extra cold and there isn’t enough emergency shelter for people who are looking for it. So we’re maybe one of six to eight other shelters and community centers that open up their doors on different nights of the week to provide shelter.  So we’re open on Wednesday and Thursday evenings when it’s especially cold over the winter and we provide shelter for up to 14 guests. 

We have a twice annual event.  In the summer it’s Cool Stuff and in the winter it’s Hot Stuff.  We have (depending on the season) seasonally appropriate clothing donations, food donations, and volunteers there.  We open our doors to the community to come in and have a meal and shop for some clothing and spend some time. 

Some other things that we do regularly: we have a racism and reconciliation committee.  We have a group focused on building up our anti-racism efforts within the parish but by educating our parishioners and improving our anti-racism analysis within the parish.  And then also building relationships with multi-racial groups outside of the church, outside our parish and other groups engaging in anti-racism work.  A big partnership for this group has been the Rock Church which is St. Alphonsus "Rock" Liguori Church.  And we have a good relationship with them.  We’re a mostly white church and they are more of a multi-racial parish.  They probably have 50/50 black and white parishioners and so we do some more relationship building work with them all through the racism and reconciliation committee. 

We have a circle of creation committee which focuses on environmental justice.  A big effort right now is to improve our recycling at the parish and our sustainability.  Also to educate parishioners on sustainability and environmental concerns.  Those are some of our main efforts.

Q: What effect have you seen on the community from these programs? What outcomes have you seen?

CD: I’ll focus on our birth certificate program since that’s the one we got funded for, and that’s our main program.  We recognize that getting an ID is often the first step towards accessing a host of resources and services that are needed; I mentioned a few of those.  We track our intake cards, what people are coming to us needing their documents for.  And the biggest responses we always get are employment, housing, applying for social services, education, medical/health needs.  And so by tracking that information we know what they need, that while there are other factors that people are accessing those resources for, this is one barrier that’s been eliminated for them.  Since they were able to get their ID through our program they can now more easily access those services they need their ID for.  So it reduces a big barrier for people in those first steps when you’re trying to access and needing an ID to even get in the door.  So that’s an outcome that we track.  What services are people able to access now that they have this ID.

We also have a special relationship with the St. Louis City Jail, and the St. Louis City Drug Court, which is a special track for people who have drug convictions where they’re able to seek treatment and have a reduced sentence if they go through this track.  And so we have been able to assist with identification for people leaving jail, people being dismissed through the drug court process.  And so we’ve seen this is a really important step for people leaving incarceration to be able to get their identification so they can get started and get back into the community and reintroduced to all of the things they need to get set up with. 

We also built relationships with a number of agencies in the area.  We’ve received referrals from over 120 social service agencies, schools, other agencies in the area.  They refer their clients to us for documentation assistance.  And so in doing that, we’ve built relationships with them and have come to a better understanding of what other services are available in the community.  We keep resources sheets on file so that when people come to us, we know that we can help this specific need for identification but then we cannot directly provide all of these other services.  But what we can do is provide information about how to access those services.  So if people come to us and ask if we have relationships with other agencies, we have files on site and we can refer people to resources for getting what other help they need to transition out of poverty or whatever goal they have.  So those are some immediate outcomes we’ve seen for our services. 

I think an outcome that’s a little less concrete is the relationships volunteers build with guests.  Our programs is pretty touch-and-go.  We see people once and hopefully that’s it because they’re able to get their documents.  But even in that one visit we take the time to ensure that each guest is seen one-on-one by a volunteer who takes the time to listen to their story, takes the time to hear what it is that they need in particular.  They don’t rush through.  They pay attention to the individuals’ needs and builds a relationship in that moment.  And I think that’s something that guests of our programs have told us that differs from other social service interactions they have.  We take the time to work with people; don’t treat them as one of many.  Everyone is important.  And their story gets heard.  And I think that interaction is an outcome we’ve heard is really meaningful to people.

Q: Why do you feel your organization is important in today’s society?

CD: I think the one thing that comes to the forefront for us is we became more and more involved in keeping track on what’s happening on a policy level with the new law that passed requiring a photo ID for voting.  Amendment 6 passed in the fall, changing the Missouri Constitution to allow for a photo ID requirement for voting.  And we got really involved in that campaign just because we see the barriers up close to people having a photo ID.  And so we see that is a really important justice issue for us to advocate on.  And we think that this may be indicative of a larger trend that will increase the need for photo IDs. 

Who knows how the need for IDs will change and if there will be an increase of demand for ID assistance from what’s happening on a policy level?  So we’ve been in touch with other organizations who are interested in being partners with us and doing on one off ID assistance or potentially starting another site.  Just because people have seen this is a really important thing that people are able to access Ids.  You need it for voting now and that’s another really fundamental thing we want to make sure people can access along with all the other things.  I think that’s just one current event that speaks for the need for this service.  And I think, in general, we see a Missouri birth certificate and ID as the gateway to accessing all of these other resources.  It’s one document or a few documents but it’s needed for so many different things.  And we’re the only group providing this service on a large scale and in an ongoing way.  It fills that niche that isn’t filled otherwise.  So I just think that if we’re really wanting people to take the steps they need to access other resources and services and transition out of poverty, this is one of those first steps that isn’t meant in any other way.

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