Barbara Worden opens a clear plastic drawer filled with striped onesies and matching flannel tops and bottoms. The longtime member of Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield has just helped a mother find pajamas for her two-year-old son.
The Life Closet is a clothing donation room housed in the Little Flower Center, a program located in north Aurora that is part of Catholic Charities. The clothing is free to families and individuals who fill out an intake form. The form asks for information like how many people make up the family, their ages, and the family or individual’s estimated monthly expenses.
Unlike other social services, you don’t need to prove your income with receipts and paystubs here. The center runs on the good will that people are being honest and are coming because they need help.
Organized religion is on the decline in the U.S. — today, 20 percent of adults say they have no religious preference, a downward trend that started in the 1950s. Despite that drop, churches remain an essential hub for the charity organizations like Little Flower provide.
“Martha gets the socks and underwear for patients behind the counter,” Worden says, pointing to fellow parishioner Martha Zang who is organizing various green and blue crates brimming with packaged undergarments.
The clothing is donated, organized, and managed by volunteers from Our Lady of Loreto.
“Most of our children’s things, we get from our church. Our church raises funds for the brand new socks and underwear,” she says.
Worden is corrected by Zang, who is now laughing. They’re clients, not patients, Zang reminds her. Barbara is a retired nurse, Zang explains.
On a wall next to the counter hangs a gold-framed portrait of Virgin Mary, intently praying.
The space used to be a gathering place for the Knights of Columbus, who gave the building to Little Flower last year so diminished social services could be restored to north Aurora residents. The jaunty blue, red and gold insignia and letters “KC” still surround the iron lights protruding from the walls.
At the building’s entrance, a long wooden bar, once used as a social hall, has been converted into a sign-in area for visitors. The shelves are now filled with porcelain tea sets,and the counter decorated with dried roses in vases.
The building is also home to a food bank stocked with fresh produce, canned goods, and even a refrigerator full of steaks.
“We couldn’t be in existence here right now if there wasn’t the support of the churches,” says Siobhan Latimer, the operations manager for the center. The center runs on financial and material donations from area churchgoers, she says.
George Shoemaker, a parishioner of St. James in Denver, is a retired debt counselor and money manager who provides free financial counseling at Little Flower every Thursday.
“We have no shortage of people that come to the door of St. James every day asking for help,” he says. “Centers like this are linked to a lot of parishes. I still think, whether people are religious or not, they don’t go to a gas station if they want food. And they don’t go to the bank if they want food. Where they will go is the church, whether they’re going to church or not.”
Something you will hear from most volunteers at Little Flower is that faith drives charity.
“If you’re someone who has a strong belief in God, you say, what does this God ask me to do? Love your neighbor as yourself. That was the greatest rule. Christ came to take care of the poor. If you read anything in scripture, that’s all you read,” George Shoemaker says.