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Prayers answered for Magdalene House

By Stacy Trevenon-Half Moon Bay Review--Photo by Mark Jordan

Whooshing sounds that Coastsiders heard Monday were not just gusts of rain-swept wind, but sighs of relief from the Magdalene House Coastside Catholic Worker in Half Moon Bay.

Monday was the day Mike and Kathy Niece, who live in the Magdalene House and run its work sheltering homeless families and aiding the Coastside's poor, learned they had raised the $20,000 they needed to keep their house and ministry going through the year 2003.

"There were smiles all around today," said Kathy Niece. "It was a big sigh of relief."

It was a "tunnel vision" erring on the side of compassion that brought the Nieces into crisis: Faced with a 2003 budget, but without funds because their money went to the poor they were here to help.

The Nieces came to Half Moon Bay in February 2000 to open a house of hospitality in the Catholic Worker tradition: where they could fulfill the scriptural mandate to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, shelter the homeless and tend the sick.

For its first three years, it was subsidized by the Catholic Worker House in Redwood City.

In 2002, the Magdalene House served 250 families by donating food, baby items, gave out blankets and sleeping bags, gave emergency rental assistance, bought gas for needy families traveling through town and accompanied a teen cancer patient and his mother through treatment and hospice care.

The subsidies ran out this year. The Nieces had been channeling funds into subsidizing two homeless families and into rent and bills for the needy, instead of cultivating a solid base of support, and needed $20,000 in hand by March 1 for the 2003 budget.

"It is their open-hearted love for the poor that led them to help with rent subsidies, PG&E, certificates for McDonald's," said Larry Purcell, one of the founders of Redwood City Catholic Worker.

"We overdid it," Kathy Niece said.

Word went out that the Magdalene House was in trouble, and sources from Coastside and Catholic communities answered.

In December, the local Catholic communities in Our Lady of the Pillar Church in Half Moon Bay, St. Anthony of Padua in Pescadero and Our Lady of Refuge in La Honda took up a second collection in the week before Christmas.

On the weekend of Feb. 15, the Coastside's Mexican community held a third-anniversary fund-raising party for Magdalene House. Local restaurants Trs Amigos and Joe's on the Coast donated food, and local band Grupo Antequera and magician "Solin" (Gerardo Ortiz) entertained.

Catholic communities beyond the Coastside also dug deep. On Feb. 22, Pacifica's St. Peter Catholic community put on their third annual Spaghetti Feast, drawing more than 300 people from Pacifica to Pescadero for spaghetti, solidarity, local entertainers and a raffle.

Non-Catholic Coastside congregations merged for the common cause. Holy Family Episcopal Church, the Coastside Lutheran Church and the Coastside Jewish Community all pitched in donations of food, clothing and furniture as well as cash.

"A lot of groups helped us out," Kathy Niece said.

The Community United Methodist Church had already been working in tandem with the Magdalene House, collecting food, diapers, infant clothing and school supplies for children of those the Nieces helped. This year, they opened their wallets a little more: Pastor Larry Thomas made a direct appeal to his congregation, and collection plates ran over.

"Our goal has always been to participate with other organizations. If you work with other people, you have the greatest impact," Thomas said. "I think of them as partners in the ministry we're all trying to do on the coast."

The Methodist church's collections, rolled into a check that Thomas gave to the Nieces Monday, was what "pushed us over the top" in meeting their goal, Kathy Niece said.

"The good thing about this crunch to raise money is all the people that have come forward to help," Mike Niece said. "When folks heard we needed help to keep going, the phone started ringing off the hook."

He added that individual contributions, some no larger than five dollars, "have been just as important as the big events."

Reaching the goal drew sighs of relief from the Redwood City Catholic Worker house, too.

"They had fiscal issues, and I hope those are behind us. I think their budget is balanced," Purcell said. "Kathy and Mike's hearts are wonderful, their compassion for the poor is spectacular, the work I've seen is excellent."

He added that by just existing, Magdalene House fills a mission.

"Our goal is to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and ask why there are so many poor in the richest country of two-legged creatures," Purcell said. "The ultimate goal is to clearly stand over the value of money being more important than people. As our compass, we use the scriptures. I think Kathy and Mike do those things exceptionally well."

With this new breath of financial life, the Nieces will continue with business as usual - with a new dimension of outreach to build a fiscal base.

They are working now on planning ongoing fund-raising efforts, and outreach to the community, to build that base.

Their food and clothing distributions, handed out from the garage of the Kelly Avenue house on Mondays and Wednesdays, and distribution of produce on the fourth Saturday of each month, will continue uninterrupted, Kathy Niece said.

They will also work toward their dream of opening a community center for the coast's Spanish-speaking community, that would provide meals and other assistance.

For now, Kathy said, they

will focus on trying to get

people to pledge monthly support, even of small amounts. She said they also want to get out and speak to more groups in the community, to gain visibility, build relationships and "so that people can put a face to our ministry."

Finally, Kathy said, they would like to build a network of all the church and other groups that have supported the Magdalene House, to do financial planning "so that we can stay on top of it this time."


Copyright 2005Half Moon Bay Review and Pescadero Pebble.