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Judith Sharp and Estin Walker talked during a visit from their social worker, Cheri Popelka from Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Serivce, at their home in Wentzville in April.
Judith Sharp and Estin Walker talked during a visit from their social worker, Cheri Popelka from Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Serivce, at their home in Wentzville in April.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

ACA | ‘Loved and understood’

Caring approach at Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service helps woman who was unhoused for a year and many others

Judith Sharp and her fiance were without a home for almost a year, living mostly “on the streets,” as she phrased it.

Then, while visiting the Salvation Army center in St. Charles, she met an outreach worker from Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service, an Annual Catholic Appeal-funded agency. “She came up to us and asked, ‘If we can get you off the streets, would you be willing to do it?’” Sharp recalled.

Soon, Sharp was housed in a hotel room and then in a house that serves as part of Sts. Joachim and Ann’s transitional housing. While Sharp is happy to be housed, she’s also thrilled with the follow-up from her caseworker, Cheri Popelka, who has provided comfort, advice, encouragement, goal-setting and more. “Fantastic,” Sharp said several times to describe the social service provider for people in need in St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties.

Earlier this year, the food pantry at Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service delivered food twice a week to about 40 motorists who formed a line outside the building. Even in the bitter cold of winter, volunteers showed up to bring food to the cars, warming themselves occasionally in a heated tent. “The need is there,” said Tim Dorn, a retired firefighter and parishioner of Sts. Joachim and Ann in St. Charles who is the service’s pantry assistant. “There’s a kindness we need to be a part of. It’s a good mission, and people appreciate us.”

Dorn worked in tandem with Jack Delabar, a retired police officer, and other volunteers. “You’re able to do good and put a smile on people’s faces,” said Delabar, a parishioner of St. Robert Bellarmine in St. Charles.

Volunteer Rich Hieger maneuvered carts full of groceries to give to clients during a distribution of food and personal hygiene items to clients at Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service in St. Charles in February.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston
Patti Seger got a bonus with her food — a chocolate cake for her son’s birthday. The pantry is “a lifesaver,” she said, since she could no longer work in food service due to the pandemic. She was planning to do some lawn service work once the weather improved.

Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service will celebrate its 40th anniversary on the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Ann on July 26. The service is looking ahead to the next 10 years. Affordable housing is one option as a focus. The service owns a senior community in Warrenton operated by Cardinal Ritter Senior Services. “One of the things we have a serious lack of is affordable housing in all three counties,” said Pam Struckhoff, executive director of Sts. Joachim and Ann. “We want to stay relevant but stay true to our mission.”

Catholic social teachings are a guiding force for the service, which was founded on those principles. “Our mission is based in Scripture, and that’s how we try to run this agency, seeing Christ in those we serve, trying to learn more from them than they do from us.”

Street outreach started in 2016, one of the few programs in the area serving mostly single men. Caseworkers for that program have full caseloads because of the need.

“We’re focused on everybody, and having the staff to do that,” Struckhoff said.

The pandemic brought partnerships with the Community Council of St. Charles County and county health departments. Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service sought out unhoused people who were most susceptible to COVID-19 and housed them in hotels and followed up on their medical needs. The food pantry adjusted guidelines to get more food to people, especially those with a sudden income drop.

They’ve helped many restaurant workers, including an executive chef who needed food for his family.

“We have been blessed,” Struckhoff said of donors to the food pantry. “Our church community takes care of us.”

A mission for others

Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service’s mission is to serve those in crisis and to prevent homelessness and hunger.

Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service was founded in 1981 by five volunteers from Sts. Joachim and Ann Parish in St. Charles, with $500 and a spirit of charity. They were inspired by the charitable outreach of their founding pastor, Father Bob Leibrecht. It was guided for 35 years by the late Miriam Mahan prior to her retirement as executive director in 2016.

The agency has been supported for many years by the archdiocese’s Annual Catholic Appeal. It is slated to receive $90,000 if this year’s appeal meets its goal and is among more than a dozen areas where the appeal provides funds addressing areas of human dignity and social responsibility.

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