In the heart of our community lies a longstanding partnership that embodies dedication, compassion, and mutual respect. The bond between St. James’s Episcopal Church and CARITAS has not only endured the test of time, but has flourished through shared values and a shared mission to uplift those in need.

The roots of CARITAS trace back to the 1980s when we began as an all-volunteer effort known as “Winter Cots.” In the late 1990s, St. James’s joined forces with CARITAS through a community effort called Shelter Week. As Carrie Acey, the liaison between St. James’s and CARITAS, recalls, “We were one of the congregations that would host primarily in the wintertime when they had the biggest need.” 

With the coordination of emergency shelter as our first program offering, CARITAS was originally an acronym for Congregations Around Richmond Involved To Assure Shelter. At St. James’s, this shelter initiative found its home in a renovated space named Gibson Hall, a small area downstairs in Michaux House. Here, guests would check in every night, gaining access to showers, food, counseling, and activities with congregation members. Before Michaux House underwent renovations, vans were onsite to transport guests to the local YMCA for showers. 

With the construction of the CARITAS Center, CARITAS transitioned the women’s emergency shelter into an all-day facility with staff on duty 24/7. Opening the doors in December 2020 while Virginia was still on COVID-19 lockdown, CARITAS had to get creative with engaging longtime partners in supporting our work in our new space. St. James’s jumped in immediately to remain engaged with meals and supply donations.

Acey sees the transition to the CARITAS Center as a positive change. She notes, “It has progressively become easier and easier, now that we don’t have to have overnight staff here, which we did when we were hosting here at the church. The transition has made it much better for the guests and participants, and it’s been a good transition as well for our volunteers to have it all in one space, so it’s worked out well.” Now fully open for volunteers to come into the building, the partnership between St. James’s and CARITAS continues to this day, striving to provide safe housing, fellowship, wellness activities, and above all else, what a lot of participants require: love. Acey says, “I think it’s wonderful that the women don’t have to pack up all their things and move every week to a different location. There’s a lot of burden eased from them as well.”

Acey believes the current structure of the volunteer partnership between St. James’s and CARITAS will positively impact the relationship into the future, leading to increased volunteer engagement. This relationship can serve as a beacon for other congregations looking to engage with CARITAS as we operate today.

In addition to its longstanding relationship with the emergency shelter, St. James’s has embraced supporting other CARITAS programs as they developed, including The Healing Place, the Furniture Bank, Works, and the Recovery Residences. Acey expressed her excitement about how the Center has made lending a helping hand much easier. “Now that the participants are in one place, it has made it a little bit easier to recruit volunteers. The women currently will play games, have spa nights, and more, which usually wraps up a little early, so we don’t have late nights anymore.” St. James’s has supported the recovery programs through backpack and clothing donations, furniture drives, hosting cookouts for participants, and sponsoring an apartment in the Recovery Residences. Additionally, members of the congregation have served on the CARITAS Board of Directors and started the Monument Avenue 10k training team.

To see more of the history of partnership between St. James’s and CARITAS, watch the full episode on our YouTube Channel.