Catholics United for the Poor

On an evening in 1985, not long after she had formed Over-the-Rhine's Our Daily Bread, Cookie Vogelpohl was up to her elbows in paint. She was renovating the dining area that each morning saw scores of homeless men, women and children lining up for a warm breakfast. Father Chris Hall, pastor of Old Saint Mary's and Father Randy Lafond dropped by to visit. Cookie gave each of them a paintbrush. Fr. Chris and Fr. Randy had just started their own helping organization, one dedicated to serving individuals both homeless and mentally ill. They called it Tender Mercies.

Cookie recalls that the three of them were scared, nervous and excited about their new ventures. They could see plainly the call to the poor, but they could also see they would need help. They needed the community, especially the Catholic community, to be involved. Cookie, Fr. Chris and Fr. Randy sat around on paint cans talking and wondering how they could raise awareness and funds, not only for their individual work, but for one another, too. They came up with an idea for a cooperative--Catholics United for the Poor.

Father Chris, as Cookie recalls, was a nuts-and-bolts type and always on the move. In no time he was drawing up a code of regulations and creating committees. In October 1985, Catholics United for the Poor, or CUP, held its first fundraiser. It was a spaghetti dinner in the basement of Assumption Church. Father Chris was in charge of the Parmesan Cheese. He showed up with several ounces in a sandwich bag. Cookie, with a crowd of 100 gathering behind her, just looked at him and smiled.

That first event raised $1,100. A spaghetti dinner the next year did even better. By 1988, CUP was setting fundraising goals of $100,000.

The breadth of CUP has expanded dramatically in the past sixteen years. In the beginning, five small organizations participated--Our Daily Bread, Tender Mercies, Bethany House Services, Over-the-Rhine Kitchen, and the Practical Family Living Center. But by the end of the 1980s, larger and more established Catholic helping organizations were joining as well. They included St. John Social Service Center, Mary Magdalen House, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (helping the poor since 1869). All of the agencies were tied together by their Catholic roots and their desire to uplift the poor. Father Chris served as the first board chair and Cookie took over later and led the group for ten years.

The goals of CUP are three-fold. The member agencies want to raise awareness of the poor, share information and resources, and raise funds for their work. CUP Trustees, consisting of the directors of each agency, meet monthly to collaborate, problem-solve, share materials and raise funds. CUP speaks to parishes and social justice groups and uses mail solicitation to ask for financial support. The Catholic Telegraph has often been a medium for CUP agencies to speak to the Archdiocese as a whole.

Friends from all parts of our community have become contributing CUP donors. People of all faiths make substantial contributions because they know CUP helps many diverse people, through social service agencies that assist those in greatest need.

Small Miracles

What can CUP funds do? Tricia Roddy, from Bethany House Services, knows that it can help stabilize women and support their family reunification process through Bethany's Transitional Housing and Counseling Programs. Daphne, a guest at Bethany House Services' Emergency Shelter adds, "I don't know how I would have ever saved my kids from the street without the assistance of Bethany House Services."

CUP support also helps agencies to provide transportation assistance, job training, day care, case management services, shelter, food, and a variety of other necessities to get individuals and families on their feet.

Brother Giancarlo Bonutti, of Mary Magdalen House, feels, "It is our hope to refresh their souls as well as their bodies and we are sincerely blessed by the generosity of our benefactors who participate in our ministry of serving our brothers and sisters through the various agencies in CUP. As Mother Teresa said, 'It's not how much you give, but how much love you put into the giving that really matters.'"

Catholics United for the Poor enjoys the support of over 3,000 regular donors. Some give at Christmas in response to CUP's annual appeal, and some make an offering at Easter, when CUP sends out Easter cards. Other donors have responded to appeals placed in The Catholic Telegraph, and still others contribute on a monthly basis. An anonymous donor has challenged the CUP Trustees to "Fill the CUP for Tomorrow" by matching funds from donors. This special opportunity has allowed CUP to search for ways to establish a financial plan that will enable the agency to reach out and serve more of the area's families in need.

Just as in the beginning years, money goes to CUP organizations working directly with the poor, organizations that combined touch the lives of thousand of less fortunate men, women and children each year. "These are agencies that would love to be out of work," Marcia Simmons explains. "Today's economic times are prosperous for many families. Unfortunately, poor families continue to struggle in low paying jobs, having few educational opportunities, and with dwindling support services."

The spirit of Catholics United for the Poor is strong and positive as the member agencies begin a new century. You can unite with us in this ministry of serving God's poor by "Filling the CUP" and in doing so, give hope and help to those in need throughout our community.

Sr. Mary Stanton, a founding member of CUP who was the emcee at that first spaghetti dinner over 20 years ago feels, "People working together in a cooperative spirit for a common purpose for more than twenty years is a little miracle itself."

If you would like to learn more about Catholics United for the Poor, call us at (513) 471-4990. If you would like to make a financial contribution, CUP's mailing address is: PO Box 14548, Cincinnati, OH 45250.


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Catholics United for the Poor
PO Box 14548, Cincinnati OH 45250
(513) 471-4990