St. John Apostle, Oahu
“I can’t stay detached”, laughs Pearl as she scurries around her crowded office at St. John Apostle. “If I help one person I feel good.” Retired from a career in civil service with the army, airforce and navy , Pearl is the Outreach Coordinator at St. John Apostle Catholic parish in Mililani. Her office, squeezed in between the parish pre-school and the church, is literally stacked floor to ceiling with toys for Christmas, boxes of food, and household items. As she conducts this interview between phone calls, she keeps her hands busy, packing sanitary kits to donate to a homeless shelter on the Waianae Coast.
At St. John Apostle, the Parish Outreach Coordinator position includes (but is not limited tot), providing ministry to the homebound, assisting grieving parishioners in planning funeral services, managing the food pantry, and acting as intake manager for Helping Hands Hawaii. “Most of those we assist are not members of the parish. I know that there are people in our community who need help, but won’t ask. I make jokes a lot and try to make people feel comfortable about stopping by my office.”
Pearl also talks about the frustrations of the job. “It’s difficult for me when you can’t help toward a long term solution, but just fill in the gaps. For example I had a woman come in with several children, who’s husband has a good job, but he just spends all their money on gambling, cars…things like that. Their bills were due, the rent was due, and there was no money to buy food. But her problem was her husband, and really all I could do was counsel her, it was up to her to change their situation. You want to lift them up and give a hand-up, not a hand-out.”
Pearl laughs as she recalls stories that warm her heart, like the man that walked in her office just before Thanksgiving last year, wanting to help find a family with their meal. He gave her a large certificate for Safeway….and minutes after he left, a young mother came in, distraught because she had no idea how she was going to provide a holiday dinner for her children. “It’s so wonderful when things work like that”. Pearl also remembers seeing a story in the newspaper about children who where embarrassed to come to school because of lack of clothes and school supplies. “We got together backpacks, school supplies, hygiene kits and boxes of clothes and delivered them a few days later.”
She says passionately, “Living the gospel…social justice… expressing love, that is what being Catholic is all about.” It’s time to end the interview as Pearl is heading out the door to meet . Hui O Lau Lima, a self organized a group of parish volunteers, is holding a garage sale to benefit those who’ve lost their jobs at ranch, on the island of Molokai. She leaves me with a beaming smile as she goes to support their efforts to live the gospel.