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

Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

Christmas Appeal: Remembrance, Hope, and Faithfulness

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

December 2021

Dear Friends,

I am writing this letter, as I often do, during the morning serving at our dining room. Why here and now? When I am surrounded by the clamor of our guests being served, the playful banter of friends dining together, and tables and chairs being put away at the end of the serving day I am reminded of what drew me to this work and why I continue in it after so many years. In our newsletters this past year, we have been commemorating 25 years of love, service, and, hopefully, faithfulness to those in need in our community at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. We’ve reflected on what brought us here, why we do what we do, and how our work has grown over the years. As we close out our year of remembrance we hope that it has not been mere navel-gazing or self-congratulatory pats on the back, but rather an opportunity to remember God’s great love for us and what joy is to be found in the daily practice of the Works of Mercy, particularly to “the least among us.”

While I feel it’s important to remember why we serve those in need, for most of the 25 years of writing these letters I have struggled to avoid being repetitious and have attempted to keep these letters fresh and relevant. Our December letter has always posed the greatest difficulty. How many times can you relate the usual themes of Advent and Christmas to current events at Catholic Worker Hospitality House and in the world before they lose their power?

I have written on the season of Advent being a time of renewal and new beginnings; on the importance of people of faith being a beacon of hope when all seems lost; of how Catholic Worker Hospitality House tries to be a light in a time of darkness; how God’s coming into the world through the birth of Jesus at Christmas challenges us to see God in all humanity; and how Jesus’ humble birth calls us to be humble and live simply, even if it’s viewed as a threat to the powers that be.

Upon further reflection, these are great themes that bear reiteration. We are repetitious lest we forget, become complacent, and lose hope. With that in mind, we will honor God’s great love for us by continuing to seek renewal in ourselves and our work to better enflesh the Kingdom of God here and now in our community; we will strive to be instruments of God’s grace by serving those most in need in our society through the direct daily practice of the Works of Mercy; and we will seek to be a light of hope for those experiencing a time of darkness in body and/or mind. We will do our best to always be grateful for all we have been given: for God’s presence in our lives, for all the love in our lives, for all we have been given, and for the opportunity to serve. The list can, and should, go on and on for we can never be too repetitious when it comes to gratitude. But mostly we remain thankful for God’s great love for us in so many ways, particularly during this holiday season in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Despite all our failings we are worthy of this love and must pass it on.

And as always we give great thanks for all your past support of our work with those in need in our community and hope that you will continue helping us help others. We simply could not do this work without your kindness and generosity. All of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House wish you and yours a happy holiday season.

Merry Christmas,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

THANKSGIVING MEAL

In keeping with the letter’s theme of repetition, I reprint, with slight modifications, the reflection I wrote about last year’s Thanksgiving Dinner. It’s as apt this year as last year.

Every year, two weeks before Thanksgiving I get into a tizzy, fearful that we won’t have enough food for our guests. But every year there is plenty. Every year I fear that something will go dreadfully wrong and the meal will be a disaster and every year it’s a beautiful event. This year, due to the coronavirus, my fears were doubled. I hate not being able to serve a sit-down meal. How are we going to make the day festive when the best we can do is hot meals To-Go? Well, once again my fears proved unfounded, as our Thanksgiving Dinner was a lovely event. We had plenty of food and volunteers, and over 130 guests enjoying the day. Even without indoor dining the day was festive, joyful and full of thanks. I was a reminder of why our Thanksgiving Dinner is my favorite event of the year. I definitely need to be more mindful of the angel’s admonition of “Do not be afraid, everything will be alright.”

We thank all of you who provided food and supplies to make Thanksgiving a special day for all our guests. We couldn’t have done it without you. Now it’s time to prepare for Christmas…..

 

CHRISTMAS DINNER NEEDS

We will be hosting a Christmas Dinner for our guests, but with changes to account for the COVID pandemic. As with our Thanksgiving Dinner we hope to serve a sit-down meal, but may only be able to provide hot and hearty meals To-Go. Again, we hate making this change, as it seems hardly festive, but the safety of our guests and volunteers necessitate it (and Diocesan rules demand it). That said, can you help us host our annual Christmas dinner for our guests by cooking part of the meal?

We need:

  • Ham, cooked and carved
  • Potato dishes
  • Cookies, pie, or cake
  • individual milk, juice, or soda

Please bring food donations between 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 p.m. Thursday, December 23. We will be serving the meal between 11:30 – 1:30 p.m. that day. Food can be brought to our dining room at St. Bruno’s Church, located at 555 W. San Bruno Ave. in San Bruno. Please call us at (650) 827-0706 if you can bring anything or if you have any questions. Thank You!

 

GIFT IDEAS

If you’re interested in providing a gift for one of our guests, may we suggest gift cards as the ideal gift for another COVID impacted Christmas? They would provide Christmas cheer for our guests and enable them to purchase the items they need and want. It would also limit your exposure to crowds this holiday season. We suggest gift cards to grocery stores, Target, restaurants and coffee houses. If you still want to purchase a tangible gift, may we suggest one of the following: sweatshirt, thermal underwear, hat and gloves, socks, or underwear.

We thank you for your generosity in helping to make this holiday season special for our guests!

Can you bring food for our Thanksgiving Dinner?

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

Dear Friends,

Thanksgiving will soon be upon us and Catholic Worker Hospitality House will once again host a Thanksgiving Dinner for all our guests. Last year, due to COVID, we could only serve meals To-Go, this year we will return to serving a festive sit down meal for all our guests. We once again turn to you to make this special meal possible. In the past you have brought food to share with all of our guests for a traditional Thanksgiving feast. Can you help us again this year? Can you bring one or more of the following:

  • Turkey, cooked and carved to serve ten
  • Pie, cake or cookies
  • Mashed potatoes or stuffing for ten
  • Apple cider or milk
  • Vegetable dish for ten
  • Paper plates, napkins, to go containers

If you can provide any of these items please call us at (650) 827-0706.

Food is to be brought to our dining room at St. Bruno’s Church, located at 555 W. San Bruno Ave., between 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, Nov. 25). The meal will be served between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.. PLEASE call to tell us what you can bring so we can plan accordingly.

Please consider yourself invited to our Thanksgiving Dinner. We know many of you are far from family or perhaps without family. Thanksgiving is the time we remember that we are all part of God’s family: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you all are one in Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

Thank you so much for your continued generosity.

Peace,

Peter Stiehler
For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House

ADU Update

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler
In early September we broke ground on our new affordable housing project in the backyard of our house on Second Ave in San Bruno. Once complete it will provide two more permanent bedrooms of permanent housing for those we serve. As the accompanying pictures show the framing is largely finished and we can get a real sense of how the building will look once completed.
It’s a truism in any building project that the client is always dissatisfied with the pace of construction, and we are no different. While we are happy with the progress that has been made, we wish things were moving along quicker. The torrential rainstorm we experienced on Sunday, October 24 hit just before the contractors had planned on roofing the building (of course) and will delay progress by a week or two. UGH! Such is life in construction. We are still hoping for a February move in date and we will keep you updated on the progress of construction.
Finally, we want to thank all of you who responded so generously to our September appeal for assistance with funds for the ADU. Your generosity will enable us to complete the project without going into debt or taking funds from our other projects. Thank you all so much!

September Appeal

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

SEPTEMBER 2021

Dear Friends,

This past spring while discussing edits to our anniversary newsletter with my daughter Ella, she remarked, “You know Dad, it seems that most of the projects at Catholic Worker Hospitality House that have been successful over the years have been the ones to do with housing.”  I had never thought of that before, but she was right.  Whether it’s our emergency homeless shelter, our transitional housing for people coming out of prison or our various permanent affordable housing units, there is such a need for housing that it’s hard to go wrong.  At the risk of spouting a cliché: “If you build it they will come.”

I think particularly about our boarding houses.  Whenever someone has the opportunity to get a room in one of our houses they feel like they’ve won the lottery.  They are shocked to learn that they’ll have their own room in a nice house for such a minimal rent.  I let them know that as long as they keep the place clean, are a good roommate, and pay rent, they’ll have a room for as long as they like. I always tell them, “This is permanent housing; it’s neither short term nor transitional.”  

Catholic Worker Hospitality House exists to respond to the needs of our community and over the years we have tried a variety of projects to address different problems our guests face.  This disbelief our boarding house residents feel when they’re first invited to live in one of our houses is due to how unaffordable living has become in the Bay Area.  In the Bay Area there is the one overarching problem that permeates everything – the high cost of housing.  With rent prices soaring for decades, even when our guests have full-time jobs or are receiving Social Security checks, those we serve are often unable to pay the exorbitant price of rent that has now become “normal.”  It should not be normal for people to be working full-time jobs and still struggle to feed and house themselves.  Therefore, it’s not really surprising that our housing projects have been the most successful. It’s the greatest issue our guests face and the biggest problem in our community.  So of course the profoundest way we can impact their lives is by providing affordable, permanent housing. 

It’s an obvious problem with an obvious solution, but it took us a while to realize that we had the ability to provide some of this much-needed affordable housing.  We had been operating our dining room and homeless shelter for ten years before we started using the Second Ave house in San Bruno as a boarding house fifteen years ago and it was such a success that when money became available we purchased a house in South San Francisco to provide more housing, then later added on to the Second Ave house when funds once again became available.  We are always looking for an opportunity to increase the amount of permanent affordable housing we are able to offer those we serve as the need just continues to increase.

Artist rendering of what our ADU will look like.

This house under construction, while not ours, is exactly what our ADU will look like and has the same architectural plans.

Well, we’re expanding again. For at least 15 years Kate and I have dreamed of building an ADU (auxiliary dwelling unit, “in-law unit”) in the backyard of our Second Ave. house.  Until recently city zoning restrictions prevented us from doing so, but over the past few years state mandated changes to those regulations now make it possible for us to build the ADU of our dreams.  This ADU will allow us to expand the amount of permanent affordable housing we are able to provide to those we serve at our dining room and homeless shelter.

After years of dreaming and planning, events are now moving fast.  In mid-July we received final approval of our building plans from the San Bruno building department.  As I write in late August we are deciding upon a contractor and expect to break ground on the project in early September.  If all goes well the ADU will be completed and occupied by January or February of 2022.  We will keep you apprised of the building progress in upcoming newsletters, as well as on our website and Facebook page.

Can you help us make this dream a reality? We expect the project to cost $350,000.  We have already raised $200,000, but will need another $150,000 to complete the project. We realize this is a huge sum of money, but it has been our experience over the years that many people giving whatever they can allows us to do great things.  Any amount you can give will be helpful in enabling us to complete this project.

As always we thank you for your ongoing support of our work.  Your generosity enables us to not only maintain our current service projects, but to have the courage to make our big dreams a reality.

 

In Christ’s Peace,

 

Peter Stiehler

For all of us at

Catholic Worker Hospitality House

 

In Loving Memory of Michael Thompson

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

On Tuesday, August 24 2021 Mike Thompson passed away after a long battle with lung cancer.   Mike was a life-long San Bruno resident and long-time resident of our Second Ave boarding house.  We were able to host in-home hospice care for Mike for most of his illness, but he spent his final three weeks at St. Francis Convalescent Pavilion in Daly City.  We first got to know Mike twenty years ago as a guest at our dining room and homeless shelter.  Thirteen years ago when we turned our Second Ave house into a boarding home Mike was one of the first people I brought into the house.  I quickly came to depend on Mike as the informal house manager.  He would take out the trash, wash the shelter laundry, and let me know if there were any problems at the house.   His presence made my job much easier and the house a nicer place for the other residents. 

Hanging out on the back porch together, Mike and I often bonded over sports.  In typical male fashion it was always a safe and easy source of conversation.  We had our yearly big money bet ($1) on the Texas-Oklahoma football game.  Having been born in Oklahoma, Mike was a fan of the “land-thieves” from north of the Red River.  While it was fun to watch the game together, I sadly often lost the bet.  

At Catholic Worker we too often only see our guests at their worst or “past their prime.”  In 2013 we got to see a different side of Mike.  Mike grew up in the Rollingwood neighborhood of San Bruno and attended Crestmoor High School and was featured in the book “Michael and the Whiz Kids” by John Christgau.  Christgau was the head coach of the school’s “lightweight basketball” team (a high school league for smaller players).  The book chronicled the team’s 1968 championship season, focusing on what it was like for Mike as the only black kid on the team and in the school.  The book was a good read and it gave me an opportunity to see a different side of Mike.

Living at the Second Ave house enabled Mike to restore stability and dignity to his life.  This led to him reconnecting with his son and grandchildren after years of marginal contact.   It was always heartening seeing Mike and his son spending time together, usually they just talked and argued about sports, but it was easy to tell they enjoyed each other’s company.  I loved the backyard cookouts and domino games that Mike would host with his family and friends which brought such joy to the house. 

We are so thankful to have had Mike be a part of our work and life for over twenty years.  He was a blessing and a joy, even with his grumpy old man façade.  Rest in peace Mike, you will be greatly missed.

Mike Thompson on the back porch of the Second Avenue house.