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Carlyn Foster delivered a handmade crocheted doll of the Religious Sisters of Mercy as a Christmas present for Sister Carol Ann Callahan, RSM. Sister Carol Ann is the director of the St. Augustine-Wellston Center, which operates an annual Christmas store for residents.
Carlyn Foster delivered a handmade crocheted doll of the Religious Sisters of Mercy as a Christmas present for Sister Carol Ann Callahan, RSM. Sister Carol Ann is the director of the St. Augustine-Wellston Center, which operates an annual Christmas store for residents.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

On eve of Christmas, Wellston residents receive good news about future of public housing

Parishes sponsor St. Augustine-Wellston Center’s Christmas store

Volunteers Sally Rundquist from St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville and Judy Pitlyk from St. Angela Merici Parish in Florissant unpacked and organized donated gift items for the St. Augustine-Wellston Center Christmas store.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
The counters and shelves at the St. Augustine-Wellston Center were neatly stacked with new treasures for sale — dishes, small appliances, sheet sets, tools, toys and sporting goods.

Harrison Jolly slowly browsed as volunteer Joan Bartnett followed him with a bag in hand to collect the items he had chosen for his family — a new set of Corelle dishes, a package of powder blue bed sheets, some toy cars and a set of 12 board games.

Jolly was shopping at the Wellston Center’s annual Christmas store, featuring hundreds of new items donated from parish Advent giving trees and sold for deeply discounted prices. He really didn’t need anything for himself, adding that “I buy for my family. There’s always nice stuff here.”

Dolores Klaesner served as a personal shopper for Nellie Smith, who was looking for gifts for her grandchildren, at the St. Augustine-Wellston Center’s Christmas store Dec. 13.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

‘Happiest two days’

Sister Mary Beckman, SSND, started the Wellston Center in 1992 to provide services to the people of the five North City Deanery parishes that consolidated that year — St. Barbara, Notre Dame de Lourdes, St. Mark, St. Rose and St. Edward — which became St. Augustine. The food pantry operates twice a week, spending about about $3,000 a week on food. About 350 families are served every month. Sister Kathy Stark, SSND, helped start the thrift store, which also operates twice a week.

The annual Christmas store was started in 1993 by the late Sister James Lorene Hogan, CSJ. About 240 residents are chosen to shop at the store, which is held over a period of two days, and spend an average of $25-45 for hundreds of dollars worth of donated gifts. Any profit goes back into the center for next year.

Many of Sister James Lorene’s family members volunteer every year, collecting donations from parish Advent giving trees and pricing and organizing merchandise. Her nephew, Pat Barry, who volunteers every year with his family, said his aunt saw people buying second-hand Christmas gifts from the thrift store and knew something better could be done.

“She saw the value in a person’s self-esteem and the excitement of being able to provide for their family,” said Barry, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Clayton. “It really changed attitudes, and it’s been fun to see it grow.” Barry said he’s also equally impressed to see how people who shop at the store rarely purchase items for themselves, but instead are focused on giving to their families.

Mike Mansfield, a volunteer from St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood, helped Ruby Lathon to her car with the gifts she purchased the St. Augustine-Wellston Center’s Christmas store.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Molly Wagner, a niece of Sister James Lorene and parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes in University City, said the Christmas store isn’t possible without the generosity of so many parishes that donate either at the holidays or throughout the year. “It’s really grown,” she said of the support. “This store is the biggest I’ve seen it. It really makes you take pause. The whole thought that people can shop for themselves — they see something and they light up.”

Wellston Center director Sister Carol Ann Callahan, RSM, put it quite simply: “It’s the happiest two days of the year.”

Flora Mix laughed with her personal shopper, MaryAnn Schwartz as she shopped at the St. Augustine’s Wellston Center in Wellston, Missouri on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

>> Support St. Augustine-Wellston Center
The St. Augustine-Wellston Center operates a food pantry and thrift store, each two days a week. The center is always looking for donations of non-perishable food, as well as cash donations to help with utilities and medicine.
The St. Augustine-Wellston Center Christmas store allows residents of Wellston to purchase new items donated from parish Advent giving trees for deeply discounted prices.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

Contributions may be sent to the St. Augustine-Wellston Center at P.O. Box 11969, St. Louis, MO 63112-0069. The center is located at 1705 Kienlen Ave. For more information, call (314) 382-7158.

>> Parish support
Numerous parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis provide support to the St. Augustine-Wellston Center, including cash donations, as well as gift items for the annual Christmas store held at the center in December. They include:
Holy Cross Academy
Holy Infant
Incarnate Word
Mary Mother of the Church
Our Lady of Lourdes, University City
Our Lady of Providence
St. Angela Merici
St. Clare of Assisi
St. Gabriel
St. John Bosco
St. Joseph, Manchester
St. Norbert
St. Richard

Visitation Academy

Harrison Jolly is among residents of public housing in Wellston who will be offered vouchers for housing choices. Christmas presents for his family came from the St. Augustine-Wellston Center’s Christmas store, which is supported by several parishes around St. Louis.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

Wellston seniors get new housing options

Through advocacy of Wellston Center and others, residents will receive housing vouchers

Harrison Jolly walked the Wellston senior public housing complex’s multi-purpose room for fellowship.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

Some residents of Wellston recently faced eviction from public housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced last year its intention to demolish 201 public housing units in Wellston, including a senior housing complex. The move would have impacted more than 500 residents of the small north St. Louis County municipality that covers roughly one square mile near the western St. Louis border. Its residents are nearly 97 percent African American.

After efforts by the Wellston Center, some elected officials, and non-profit advocacy organizations, a new proposal was announced in December to offer residents choices in housing vouchers. The Housing Authority of St. Louis County said some of the vouchers will be dedicated as “project-based,” allowing for a renovation of the units, while residents find temporary residence elsewhere. HUD also will provide “housing choice” vouchers that will allow tenants to find other homes, if they wish to leave Wellston.

In November of 2018, a group of residents who regularly visit the Wellston Center approached director Sister Carol Ann Callahan, RSM, saying that HUD notified them it wanted to demolish public housing in Wellston. HUD, which has managed the public housing authority in Wellston in receivership since 1996, cited a lack of funds available to maintain the buildings, many of which are in need of repair.

Sister Carol Ann, who said the residents were rightly “stressed out,” jumped to action, contacting several board members, including Wellston Mayor Nathaniel Griffin, and Marie Kenyon, director of the archdiocesan Peace and Justice Commission, to see what could be done.

Kenyon got residents in touch with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, a nonprofit organization that is representing the Wellston Tenant Association, a group of tenants who reside in public housing in Wellston. Attorney Lisa D’Souza sent a letter to HUD in February asking the agency to halt plans to demolish public housing in Wellston until an alternative solution could be developed.

D’Souza described the situation as a moral issue that cannot be overlooked, adding that black communities in the St. Louis area have been displaced time and again. “By deciding to walk away from the housing that HUD has run for more than two decades without creating any plan for Wellston’s future, HUD will add another location to this already-too-long list of African-American families and communities destroyed by the very government that should protect and serve them,” she wrote in a letter to HUD officials.

Shortly after he took the helm as St. Louis county executive, Sam Page wrote a letter to HUD saying he would not support a demolition of HUD housing.

Numerous residents have told D’Souza they’d like to stay put in Wellston. “What we had been asking for was an option that every family get the information and make an informed choice, rather than to either force everyone to leave, or to force everyone to stay,” she said. “This is everything that the tenants wanted all along. Every family gets to make a choice that is best for them.”

Flora Mix, a resident of the senior complex who has called Wellston home since 1968, counts herself among those who want to stay. The president of the Wellston Tenant Association, Mix said the new proposal is a win-win for everyone.

“We deserve better living conditions, and that’s what I was fighting for,” Mix said. “I’d like to find a single family home out here somewhere, and stay in the community.”

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