By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer
Fifty years ago, priests, women religious, a group of people from Puerto Rico and parishioners of St. Peter the Apostle, Reading set out to improve the lives of Spanish-speaking people in the inner-city neighborhoods.
Building on programs like English tutoring, tutoring for high school equivalency exams and health care classes, laypersons from the Catholic and Protestant faiths united to establish a place where frustrations would fade and hope would be restored.
Kennedy House was dedicated March 17, 1969 at 530 Spruce St., Reading to serve the social and material needs of underprivileged Spanish-speaking people.
Local newspapers billed Kennedy House as “A Beacon of Hope” and 50 years later it will again celebrate its strong light in the community with an open house Sunday, March 17 from 2 to 5 p.m.
A 50th Anniversary Mass and reception will be celebrated Saturday, March 16 at 4 p.m. at St. Peter the Apostle.
Soon after the property was secured in 1969, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity, Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Sisters of Christian Charity, and countless volunteers from the English and Spanish-speaking communities joined forces and became a signal of God’s love.
Sister Fabian Tucker, a native of Bermuda, joined the Kennedy House staff Feb. 15, 1970, and began an apostolate for the black community, refugees and immigrants.
Through the years Kennedy House spearheaded efforts to provide food to the victims of Hurricane Agnes in 1972, distributed turkeys to those in need during the holidays and offered counseling services.
In 1979 the Poor Sisters of St. Joseph began ministry at Kennedy House, and helped establish a soup kitchen and clothing shop in 1982.
Kennedy House later went on to be supported by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Allentown as a soup kitchen, food pantry and clothing bank.
Regina Doyle, who coordinates the Catholic Charities soup kitchen operated at Kennedy House on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., said the kitchen typically provides a hot meal to an estimated 350 people each weekend.
The food pantry opens its doors to the public every Wednesday at 9 a.m. and operates until the supplies – which are donated by local grocery stores and businesses – are gone.
The clothing bank is open Mondays and Wednesdays to help families in need and homeless persons
Sister Elonia Alvarez, who originally ministered at Kennedy House in the late 1990s, returned to the ministry and the people she loves nearly 10 years later to direct the organization.
“They are the neediest, the poor and those who need the help of the Church most,” she said.
“I am part of this mission because of Jesus.”
The mission of Kennedy House, which seeks to serve all those in need of clothing and food, also offers financial services, food services and bilingual services.
It is primarily staffed by volunteers and the Poor Sisters of St. Joseph who seek to share God’s love by helping the poor.
In addition to Mass and Open House, the Kennedy House commemorated its 50th anniversary by distributing groceries to more than 100 local residents.