Residents in North St. Louis County face a variety of issues. Lack of jobs, socioeconomic instability, gangs, drugs and the cycle of poverty create hard times for many living in this area. For many, there are few options to leave or improve their situation. That’s why the St. Augustine Wellston Center in the Central Pacific Province is so important to the community. The Wellston Center uses a thrift store-model in order to generate money for a food pantry, health and social services and support for individuals in the community. Volunteers from St. Joseph Parish in Manchester, Missouri, started the Center, and School Sisters of Notre Dame Mary Beckman and Kathy Stark began directing and growing it in 1992. Today, Sister Carol Callahan, RSM, directs the pantry and social services, while Sister Elaine AuBuchon, SSND, and other volunteers assist in a variety of ways.
The Wellston Center started under the former St. Barbara Parish more than 25 years ago and is now located in another former parish facility. St. Augustine Church and many other St. Louis Archdiocesan parishes continue to support the Center. Thrift store donations come from parishes, individuals and New Balance shoes. Since 2009, New Balance has donated online returns to the Center, which is a significate source of income for the thrift shop.
Nearly 40 percent of those served by the Center are senior citizens. The food pantry clients number 300 to 400 monthly. The Wellston Center is unique in that it purchases 75 percent of the food, totaling almost $3,000 per week; donations account for the remainder. Fresh produce, meat, eggs, milk, bread and canned foods ensure residents have access to healthy meals. “We ask our clients what they want,” said Sister Mary. “We want to make sure they get food they will eat, and we want to give them access to fresh food not normally available.” Additionally, the Center offers services such as rent and utility assistance and employment help.
In December, the Center offers a Christmas shopping event. Reaching 240 families per year, the event gives clients an opportunity to buy new gifts at 25 percent of the cost. Nine parishes purchase items ranging from toys, tools, clothes, small appliances and more. The Center also spends roughly $10,000 on gifts that are purchased with donated funds. Volunteer personal shoppers accompany clients, who are happy for the chance to buy gifts at a discounted price that fits their budgets. “They appreciate the dignity this affords them to choose what they know they and family members need and want,” commented Sister Mary.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Wellston Center. The volunteers keep the pantry and thrift store operating and welcoming to clients. Volunteer nurses also visit weekly for health services and referrals.
The Wellston Friends Group, directed by Sister Carol, addresses issues affecting everyday life for families in the community. The group initially was a means for women to mourn the loss of their children and grandchildren due to drugs and violence but has evolved into an opportunity for these women to better their communities. Civic leaders, police, doctors and former neighborhood youth are among those invited to speak and listen as everyone strives to improve the quality of life for their loved ones.
“Sometimes someone just needs to hear that they can do something,” said Sister Kathy. “We try to help them reach the fullness of their potential. That’s what the Wellston Center is about.”