St Francis House celebrates 30 Years


St. Francis House is celebrating 30 years of serving the needs of the less fortunate in St. Augustine and St. Johns County, and Historic City News readers are invited to participate this month in the 30th Anniversary breakfast events.

The organization was created in 1984, through a cooperative effort of 25 local churches for the purpose of feeding the hungry and became the St. Augustine Society, Inc. Since that time, it has evolved into an agency with a full range of social services in addition to the original soup kitchen.

“I found out it’s not about who you are, it’s about how hard you work for what you want,” said Will Rinchiusa who participated in the public event. As a senior at St. Augustine High School, who stayed at St. Francis House with his family at the age of 14, he maintains a 3.2 average and has earned scholarships to Florida Gulf and Bacone College in Oklahoma.

Rinchiusa spoke to the group about his positive experience at the shelter and how it changed his outlook on life. He and his family lived temporarily at St. Francis House when his father experienced major health problems. They were able to rely on St Francis House for shelter, food and other critical services. St. Francis House assisted and supported the family and allowed them to stay together during a difficult time.

The first of the 30th Anniversary Breakfast Events was held on Friday, March 28, 2014, from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m, to showcase the facilities and programs. A continental breakfast was served, while guests spoke with staff about the programs. Tours of the campus were also provided.

Judy Dembowski, the executive director of St. Francis, began the tour of the facilities for the breakfast attendees in the dining room where it serves about 6,000 meals per month. St. Francis also provides food baskets, helping to feed another 200 families each month.

Dembowski pointed out the Murphy beds on the dining room walls provided by the St. Augustine Police Department. The beds are designated to serve individuals sleeping in public areas. This arrangement enables the city to enforce an otherwise unenforceable law that restricts sleeping in public areas. The dining room also often houses close to 25 or more displaced people on cold and rainy nights.

The dining room and kitchen are also a part of a partnership between St. Francis House, First Coast Technical College and the St. Augustine Historic Inns to sponsor the Fresh Start Culinary Program, which provides culinary training to motivated clients of area non-profit agencies. Church Services, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smoking Cessation sessions, Department of Children and Families, Veterans Counselors and the Wildflower Clinic also utilize the St. Francis House dining room to help identify and address the needs of families and individuals.

Tours of the facility, during the event, provided insight into the multitude of programs and levels of support provided by St. Francis House to families and individuals including, separate men’s and women’s dorms, accommodations for families with children and a separate transitional living building that also provides respite care to Flagler Hospital patients in need.

St. Francis House is also expanding and enhancing its volunteer program. Opportunities are available in administration, the food box program, donation processing, dining room and kitchen services and special events among others. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, contact St. Francis House at 904-829-8937.

Thanks to the incredible support of our community, St. Francis House has grown into the premier agency providing services to the homeless and less fortunate in St. Johns County. The 30th Anniversary Events are a way of saying thank you to the community and allowing the community to share in the accomplishments of the organization. The Breakfast Events will continue the last week of each month for the remainder of the year. Everyone in the community is welcome and encouraged to attend.

Renovations are planned and under way to refurbish the laundry room, the dorms and the dining room floor. Support from the community would be greatly appreciated to help make these critical improvements and to support direct client program services. Donations are tax deductible and can be sent to St. Francis House, 70 Washington Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084.