Godsend for poor shines much brighter
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- Even as some charities prepare to cut staff and services, Daystar Life Center, the small volunteer-driven downtown agency, is getting ready to celebrate its renovated and expanded accommodations.
On Saturday, the center will hold an open house to show off its improved facility and commemorate 20 years of providing food, clothing, medicine and other assistance to the area's poor.
The event, which will include a blessing of the building, will take place from 1 to 4 p.m.
"We thought we would give people a chance to wander around," said executive director Jane Trocheck Walker, adding that volunteers will be available to answer questions about the agency's programs.
The center's renovated building at 226 Sixth St. S was financed primarily with a $205,000 Community Development Block Grant from the city of St. Petersburg. The actual cost of the project was about $300,000, Ms. Walker said.
Work included construction of a larger waiting room for clients, additional interview rooms, a new roof, wheelchair access at a new entrance, a staging area to receive and sort donations, and a new parking lot. Volunteers are building shelves and adding other touches to the facility, which has twice the space of the old.
The center, which sees clients between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, was started in 1982 as an outreach of St. Mary Our Lady of Grace, a historic downtown church at 515 Fourth St. S. Volunteer Mary Venezia was the first to head the program. Sister Ruth Barthle of the Franciscan sisters of Allegany followed and remained for 17 years. Sister Rosemarie Infinito, who left to start a peace and justice center, served as executive director until recently. Ms. Walker took over last fall.
She says applications for assistance are increasing.
"We see between 55 and 80 people a day," she said.
Those seeking help include low-income families, people on fixed incomes, the elderly, disabled and homeless, Ms. Walker said. Elderly people faced with the high cost of medications often find that they can't afford to pay for their utilities, she added.
During the recent cold snap, Daystar handed out blankets and warm clothing.
"We went through a lot of warm clothes the last few days," Ms. Walker said.
"Of course, we have the food pantry and also we try to do the personal hygiene and baby diapers and adult diapers, when we get them."
Daystar also helps clients with utilities, rent and transportation.
The charity depends on grants and on donations from churches, other organizations and individuals. Ms. Walker said volunteers are at the heart of its work.
She and Sister Marita Flynn, a Franciscan sister of Allegany, hold Daystar's 11/2 paid staff positions.
"We have about 60 volunteers that work in different capacities," Ms. Walker said.
"Because it is only the two of us, everything, from the cleanup to the mailing to office work to the interviewing, all is done by volunteers. We have the young ones all the way to 86, 87 or more."
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