Catholic Worker Hospitality House of San Bruno - Providing meals and shelter in San Bruno, California.

April Appeal

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1

Dear Friends,

Having operated our little Catholic Worker House for the past 28 years I’ve come to see the rhythm and flow to our work throughout the year. While we daily perform the Works of Mercy at our dining room, homeless shelter, and affordable housing units, there are other activities related to and supportive of our work that frame our year.

From early November through the end of December is the “holiday season.” This is usually an especially busy period as during this time, in addition to our usual work, we host special meals and events for our guests, and are the recipients of numerous food drives which replenish our depleted food stores. Our bank account also gets replenished at this time with donations from you, our generous donors. What we receive in this season sets the parameters of what we can do throughout the year, particularly in regards to ongoing maintenance projects, which I will talk more about below.

Then there is what I call “IRS Season” from January into March when we are sending out tax receipts and completing various federal and state tax forms to verify that we are abiding by our stated tax-exempt purpose (the public good for which the tax-exempt status is conferred). This is a time consuming process and can feel onerous, but I’ve come to understand and appreciate its importance: non-profits should be kept accountable. Basically, the IRS wants to see that the money raised is going for the exempt purpose and not just to pay a professional fundraiser and the salary of a director. This is NEVER an issue for us. We don’t use professional fundraisers and all the workers, especially the director, are daily engaged in direct service to those in need, and we have no administrative staff.

Then from March through May is what I jokingly call “High School Service Hours Season,” when students are frantically trying to complete their service hours requirements before graduation or confirmation. The hope is that they get to experience homeless and low-income folks as actual human beings and not as bogey-men or stereotypes. It’s also good for some of them to learn how to use a can opener, make pancakes, and the joy of hand washing dishes.

Finally, there is “Maintenance Season” from April through October. To be honest, maintenance season is really year-round as we are always responding to various plumbing, electrical, or mechanical issues. But it’s during “the season” that we initiate major maintenance projects on the various buildings out of which we operate our service projects: painting, building repair, fence repair, and whatever else needs doing. As I mentioned earlier, the state of our finances in January will determine which big projects we will be able to take on in the coming year and which will have to wait. I was recently planning this years’ maintenance season projects when…..

…. The season came early and with a vengeance. Besides the usual minor repairs, we’ve been hit with multiple expensive repairs in quick succession. First there was major car repair on the truck I use daily to move all our supplies, etc.; then I had to rebuild the fence at one of our boarding homes; and then the dryer we use daily for the dining room and shelter laundry broke and needed to be replaced. All of these would have been manage- able, but to top it all off one evening in early March I received a call that there was a significant roof leak at our Second Ave house. The next day when I went on the roof to assess the situation it became clear the roof needed replacing. The roof on that house is at least 30 years old and quite complicated as the house has been added onto numerous times during its existence. After receiving estimates, it looks like it’ll cost close to $32,000 to replace the entire roof, which we can’t afford. The question now is how much roof repair can we afford to do? To be honest, it’s a little stressful.

This brings up an issue of great importance in our work at Catholic Worker Hospitality House, that of stewardship. I’ve come to
think that a better name for “maintenance season” would be “stewardship season.” I believe strongly in the importance of stewardship. I take seriously my role as steward of the resources we have been entrusted with to serve those in need. We have a responsibility to maintain them for use now and into the future. We also want to keep our places looking nice for our guests, we don’t want to be slumlords.

I can easily be accused of reverting to my bourgeois background by putting so much emphasis, and resources, into keeping our houses well maintained, but, for me, part of providing dignified housing for those we serve is to keep our houses functioning well and looking nice. Who wants to live in a run-down house? I’ve also come to see stewardship as an aspect of the Works of Mercy. It’s hard to feed the hungry if the stove isn’t working. How well are we housing the homeless if the roof is leaking, the shower is broken, and the toilet is clogged? You get my point.

For 28 years we have daily practiced the Works of Mercy in service to those in need in our community, and tried to be consistent good stewards of the resources we have been entrusted with. We have been able to do this because of your great generosity, for this we are deeply grateful. We again make a plea for your continued support so we can continue our work…..and hopefully make the needed repairs on our roof and stay on top of other repair projects that are bound to turn up. Can you continue assisting us?

Christ’s peace,
Peter Stiehler
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House



Just as the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus as they conversed on the road to Emmaus until they offered him hospitality and shared a meal together, so too do we not recognize Jesus in the faces of those we serve until we break bread together at our dining room and shelter. Emboldened by the risen Jesus we continue offering hospitality to those in need and doing our best to live out the Easter promise. In that spirit, we wish you all a HAPPY EASTER!