Pandemic strains deacons’ work with disaster victims

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Pandemic strains deacons’ work with disaster victims

Volunteers pack supplies into buckets that will be shipped to Lake Charles, La., and distributed to people cleaning up after recent hurricanes. The effort is organized by Hope’s on the Way, a ministry by deacons in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The packing took place Oct. 21, 2020 at St. Mary Retreat Center in Lemont. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Lynne Ruszkowski packs trash bags into the buckets. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Don Krengiel readies buckets for filling. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sharon Pavelich packs Brillo pads into buckets. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Patty Krengiel packs clotheslines into the buckets. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Gary Willman puts labels on the filled buckets before they are sealed. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Filled buckets await lids and sealing. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Buckets include labels listing what is in the buckets and that they came from Hope’s on the Way. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When natural disasters strike across the country, a group of local deacons called Hope’s on the Way aid the victims by filling and shipping 5-gallon plastic buckets with much-needed cleaning supplies to the area.

The group has been doing this since 2015 and on Oct. 21, using the main hall at St. Mary Retreat House in Lemont, members worked with volunteers to fill 100 buckets that were then shipped to Lake Charles, Louisiana, which has been hit hard by hurricanes this year.

Like other ministries, Hope’s on the Way has been financially devastated by the pandemic and is running out of money to purchase supplies to fill the buckets and ship them to those in need.

The ministry began after Hurricane Katrina, when a group of deacons organized 11 mission trips to Louisiana where they rebuilt a school, a monastery and homes in the New Orleans area. The group started its “Buckets of Hope” ministry after learning about similar ministries run by other Christian denominations. Each bucket contains 14 cleaning items, including dish soap, clothes pins and a clothesline and a pair of work gloves.

Recently, a business in Grand Rapids, Michigan, gave them 5,200 buckets and lids for free. All they had to do was pay to transport them. A 5-gallon bucket with a lid typically costs about $4.

Each bucket it ships includes a label with the contents of the bucket and a message that the donation is from Hope’s on the Way. The labels are donated as well.

Earlier this fall, the group shipped about 200 buckets to Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Houston after a hurricane, and they have made other shipments. The ministry reaches people all over the country. When Flint, Michigan, had its water crisis in 2014, Hope’s on the Way organized a shipment of four tractor-trailer loads of water to the area.

The group also supplies buckets to local groups who can use them and have helped renovate buildings for several local ministries.

Many of the deacons are skilled at building and repairs, and over the years have become good at repurposing materials others were throwing out. And they make every penny count.

 “We’ve done so much with so little that we’re qualified to say that we can make something out of nothing,” said Deacon John Vidmar of Hope’s on the Way.

Before the pandemic, the group would ask fellow deacons to make financial appeals in the parishes. When parishes closed their doors in the spring, it lost that avenue for funding and it has been slow to restart.

The group also used to distribute empty buckets to parishes and parishioners would take them home, fill them and return them to their churches, where Hope’s on the Way would pick them up. Given concerns about the surface transmissability of the novel coronavirus, some parishes are no longer accepting them, according to Vidmar. So no new supplies or donations are coming in.

“We’re at our last dollar. We’ve got nothing left. We’ve expended the entire treasury,” said Deacon Vidmar. “We had $9,000 in January and after we fill these buckets today, we’re down to less than $1,000.”

Deacon Joe Winblad, president of Hope’s on the Way, believes the money to keep their ministry going will come because their work follows the example of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus asks his listeners to consider, “Who is my neighbor?”

“In essence, that’s what we’re doing. Our neighbor happens to be someone devastated by hurricanes down south or it might be the forest fires in California or the flooding that happened in Nebraska,” Deacon Winblad said. “I jokingly tell volunteers it’s an eternal investment they are making.”

Their ministry is also an answer to the call of deacons to service. They took their name from the line in the prayer of St. Francis, “where there is despair, hope.”

The bucket ministry resonates with many people like Gary Willman, who was volunteering to fill buckets on Oct. 21.

“I’m retired and I want to do something for the people. This is something that you can do and it helps people in need,” said Willman. “You can do it with food or you can do it with products like this. If it helps people, do it.”

To make a monetary donation to Buckets of Hope, send a check to Hope’s on the Way, care of the Office of the Diaconate, Archdiocese of Chicago, 816 Marengo Ave., Forest Park, IL 60130.



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