Saving grace


Charities at Our Lady of Mount Carmel ensure no one slips through the cracks

By Karen Kennedy

It’s not hard to see what has landed Carmel on the top ten lists for the perfect place to live and raise a family. The beautiful streetscapes, upscale new housing developments, the glorious City Center, the Center for the Performing Arts and good schools … the list goes on and on.

And during the time of year when we take stock of what we have, what we need and what we’re thankful for, we all probably count the fact that we get to live in this safe and comfortable community as one of our blessings.

It only takes one visit to another city like Chicago or New York – even Indianapolis – to really remind us of what we don’t see here when we walk down the street – homeless people, housing projects, and people who are really, truly in need.

Just because we don’t see something every day doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In Hamilton County there are nearly 26,000 people (approximately 7,400 families) who deal with food insecurity on a daily basis. According to the Central Indiana Community Foundation, 4.6 percent of adults and 6.2 percent of children are living at the poverty rate,

And as the shock waves and layoffs from the recent recession continue, insurance complications from health care reform arise, and single parents struggle with rising cost of living, those numbers continue to grow.

“The need is not just in the holiday season, it is 365 days of the year,” said Father Richard Doerr of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church. “And we are not just here to put a bandage on things. We are here to help people find their way back to self-sufficiency. We are all God’s children, and we all deserve to be treated with love and respect.”

Looks like an office building

You’ve likely driven past the Matthew 25 Center many times. It’s a nondescript, small brown brick building on the northwest corner of the campus of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, its doors flanked with white statues of saints. Inside the Matthew 25 Center is the mission center of OLMC. It is home to the Merciful Help Center and the Trinity Free Clinic, and together these two entities serve tens of thousands of people in need in Hamilton County.

“We are so blessed to be able to come here each day and to hear the stories of why people must walk through our doors,” said Jayne Slaton, Director of the Merciful Help Center.

Trinity Free Clinic features 12 medical and dental treatment rooms. Free medical, vision and dental care are offered to uninsured and under-insured Hamilton County residents, including pediatric care and vaccinations, women’s health services, podiatry, physical therapy and general family practice services such as physical exams. Maggie Charnowski is the executive director of the Trinity Free Clinic.

Volunteers make it possible

The Merciful Help Center offers necessities such as a food, household items, baby needs, coats, socks and underwear and holiday meal deliveries. It also offers spiritual and mental health counseling, budget planning assistance, handyman services, social service referral and assistance getting larger items such as cars, furniture and appliances.

This massive enterprise is piloted by Doerr, Slaton and Charnowski, along with a veritable army of donors and volunteers.

“Nothing we do here would be possible without our volunteers,” Charnowski said. “The doctors, the nurses, the receptionists, the people who help sort donations. And many of our volunteers are people who have received help here and now want to give back. Their hearts want to be here, and that’s beautiful.”

The people next door

“Our clients are your next-door neighbors,” Slaton said. “We are all just one step away from needing help. While some people have been struggling to break the cycle of poverty for a while, others are caught completely off guard. An unexpected illness, a failed business, a death or job-loss can cause a family to suddenly find themselves in peril. And these people don’t know how to need help – they’ve never needed it before. They don’t know where to go or who to ask; that’s why we are here.”

“57 percent of food-insecure families don’t qualify for food stamps because their income level is too high. They fall through the cracks,” Slaton said. “And there are homeless people here, even in Carmel. It’s only due to the kindness of others that they are not on the streets. Instead, they are ‘couch surfers,’ moving from home to home. But they have lost a home of their own.”

“If you happen to drive down 146th Street at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning, you’ll see 40 or more people standing in line. They are waiting to get into the clinic – in the heat, in the cold, in the rain  – standing outside, with their children, waiting to get in. That’s not easy to do,” Charnowski said. “If you think there is not a need here, that line is proof that there is.”

How you can help:

  • Include Trinity Free Clinic or the Merciful Help Center in your planned giving.
  • If you have a Health Savings Account that expires annually, use those funds to purchase medical supplies, such as over-the-counter drugs, that you can donate to the clinic.
  • Both agencies always need office supplies; especially black ink pens and copy paper.
  • Watch for annual sales on items such as children’s underwear, socks, toys or backpacks, then buy and donate them.
  • Alert others in your work and personal networks to the need and encourage them to find ways to help.
  • Volunteer your time and talent.
  • Visit the Websites or to view lists of current needs.


If you or someone you know needs help:

Call to inquire about hours and services:

  • Trinity Free Clinic: 819-0772
  • Merciful Help Center: 663-4039

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