The Sister Visitor Center in Louisville expanded by 3,000 square feet in 2010, but it proved not to be enough space to handle the donations of food and clothing that come to the center.
“When I get donations, sometimes I have so much I have to send it onto the missions,” said Sister Michele Ann Intravia, the Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph who serves as manager of operations for the Sister Visitor Center.
The center provides emergency help with food, clothing, medication, rent and utilities in one of the poorest sections of Louisville. Sister Michele can send surplus items to three missions in Louisville, but it’s more efficient to disseminate them from Sister Visitor.
In the spring of 2012, Sister Michele learned that Thorntons Inc. was interested in bringing 500 people to Louisville as part of its annual Humanitarian Day. The initial plan was to frame houses and sheds for families in Henryville, Ind., a town 30 miles north that was devastated by a tornado in March 2012. The coordinators thought that might not be a big enough job for 500 people.
Sister Michele, whose friends call her “Shellie,” submitted a proposal that would accomplish both the Henryville goal and her goal for Sister Visitor. “I said we have the gym where we can feed 500 workers, and a parking lot at St. Anthony Church to build the houses,” Sister Michele said.
After eight months of planning and collaboration with Thorntons and a New Orleans-based company called Projects with Purpose, Sister Michele’s dream came true on Nov. 11, when 500 workers showed up by the busload and spent four hours increasing her storage capacity by 40 percent. They also painted the outside of Sister Visitor, put together food baskets, painted the gym at St. Anthony and framed eight houses and 10 sheds for the people of Henryville.
“Sister Shellie thinks big,” said Juli Hart, founder of Projects with Purpose. “Without Sister Shellie, this wouldn’t have happened. You need a person who will think with you.”
Hart started Projects with Purpose in 2008 in New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina. The company works with convention centers to determine what companies are hosting conventions and may be looking for a way to give back to the community. It bases its philosophy on Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” Hart said.
Thorntons Inc., a Louisville-based company that owns a string of gasoline and convenience stores in the Midwest, held its annual convention in downtown Louisville the week of Nov. 5-11. Humanitarian Day is the final day of the convention, to provide service to those in need. The previous two years, the company served military personnel at Fort Knox, said Mike Woerner, vice president for Human Resources at Thorntons.
“We want to be able to give back to the community who supports us,” he said. “We can spend money on team building exercises, or we can spend money building as a team. We’d rather help someone than play a game,” Woerner said. “It’s all about serving people.”
Projects with Purpose, which has a team in Louisville, scouted the community and determined the need in the Portland neighborhood served by Sister Visitor, Hart said.
Sister Michele said the volunteers filled 120 food baskets for Thanksgiving, with 100 for Sister Visitor and 20 for Henryville. They cleared out the basement in St. Anthony Church across the street from Sister Visitor – which filled two large trash bins – and built shelving to hold all of the Christmas clothes and toys that are given away each year. The items are given away in the church gym, which is now just 20 yards away from the storage area. Before, the items were stored at Sister Visitor and had to be hauled across Market Street, and stored on the second floor of the church.
Workers painted the entire gym white and painted a mural of multi-colored bubbles on the back wall. On the opposite wall, “Thorntons” was painted in blue letters and all the workers were encouraged to dip their hand in paint, leave a handprint on the wall and sign it.
Workers also painted the exterior of the Sister Visitor Center and cleaned the large sign on the side of the building. Aside from Sister Michele, three other Ursuline Sisters minister at Sister Visitor, Sisters Grace Simpson, Maureen O’Neill and Margaret Marie Greenwell.
“Isn’t it amazing what people can do in one day?” Hart said. “You need someone to step up and say ‘yes.’ It’s amazing the energy you bring back to neighborhoods in four hours of work,” she said. “We started eight months ago and we couldn’t have done it without Sister Shellie and her ‘yes’ mentality.”
At the end of the day, Bill Coleman, with Projects with Purpose, asked each of the workers to sign the houses they helped frame. “There were eight families in Henryville who were homeless this morning, and right now, they have homes,” he said.
Sister Michele thanked all the workers, saying Sister Visitor served 21,000 people last year and will now be able to serve more. Her emotions got the best of her as she talked about the impact of the work, but there was one last gift she didn’t know about.
Matt Thornton, president and CEO of Thorntons, started the chant of “Bring that truck!” and pulling up in front of Sister Visitor was a 26-foot box truck filled with toilet paper, diapers and paper towels. “When we get paper products it’s like Christmas,” Sister Michele said. “Our clients can’t buy paper products with food stamps.” The workers formed two lines and unloaded the truck’s contents into St. Anthony’s.
Here are pictures from the day.