CAMDEN — I remember leaving work late one cold night and finding a man huddled under a cardboard box on the front steps of my building, with a blanket wrapped around his body.
After working in Camden for more than six years, I’ve seen plenty of people who are cold, hungry and alone. Recently, though, I spent a night at a place that offers some temporary physical and emotional comfort to the city’s homeless.
As a member of a Lenten faith-sharing group sponsored by the Romero Center in Camden, I spent a night at Joseph’s House on Stevens Street in the city’s business district.
In partnership with New Visions Homeless Day Shelter, Joseph’s House serves as an overnight drop-in café. Established three years ago, it operates each night from December until the end of April. Homeless men and women are welcomed by a friendly staff who provide food and coffee, fellowship and hospitality.
The mission of Joseph’s House is to aid the “least of our brothers and sisters,” as Jesus calls us to do.
Arriving at the house, around 7:45 p.m., we were met by an older gentleman named Charlie who, with his wife, provides the meals. Every night Charlie will drive from his home in Gloucester County and drop off food. This evening he brought trays of macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, sauerkraut and cookies.
We set up three tables with eight chairs, and on each of the tables was a bowl filled with apples and bananas. On another table was a coffee station with cream and sugar, and bottled water.
Around 8:30 p.m., the visitors started trickling in, bringing their blankets and sleeping bags. Those just looking for a place to sleep quietly picked a spot on the wood floor, or on one of the folding chairs, and drifted off.
Those who were hungry sat down, and we greeted them and took their orders. For some, a hot dog. For others, only mac and cheese would suffice.
For the next 90 minutes, I talked with a man who called himself “Bob Barker”; his friend, Archie; and a young man, who introduced himself as “Detroit,” where he was from.
Bob Barker and I talked about New York City, the Empire State Building and horse racing. Archie and I discussed the sorry state of the Philadelphia Eagles, and the anticipation of the Phillies’ upcoming season. Detroit was thankful for Joseph’s House, and the “hope” that it brought him.
At the end of the night, with the 30 homeless men and women asleep, we cleaned up and headed back to our respective homes.
As I was getting into my warm bed, I said a prayer for all of those sleeping at Joseph’s House of Camden — and for all the homeless who were not there but on the street, sleeping under cardboard boxes. I thanked God for the many blessings he has presented me in my own life.
To volunteer or for more information on Joseph’s House, call John Klein, at 856-964-9777 ext. 606.
Peter G. Sanchez is the Catholic Star Herald staff writer.