“It was the most beautiful gift I have ever received … “
Mia Filipe, a 17-year-old senior at Father Gabriel Richard High School, was speaking of a hand-knitted blanket given to her by Edith, a 70-something resident of the Elms, a rundown trailer park in Flint. Unlikely friends. But the two mesh as perfectly as the multicolored yarn in the blanket.
The blanket’s beauty was not just in its appearance. Its meaning, its warmth, what it represented – gratitude – is what made it special.
“Edith and I have become friends,” Mia said. “We have helped her, and other people, but they have no idea how much they help us.”
You see, Mia is part of a cadre of FGR students and parents – led by Father Richard Lobert – who have traveled to Flint every Saturday since they began their mission in 2015. They deliver bottled water. They take clothes. They take food. Last week, they delivered a sofa bed, a chair and a microwave, although as Father Lobert said, “we’re not usually in the furniture business.”
They call it the Faith in Flint Ministry. Father Lobert goes virtually every week, Mia has been more than 50 times, in her estimation. There might be a dozen or so FGR missionaries that make the 55-mile trek to Flint each week. Sometimes there are as many as 20 that make the trip. Whatever the number, they have supplies in their hands and love in their hearts.
“The first time we went, I had three kids with me, and I looked around and I said, ‘I guess this is where we’re stopping,’” Father Lobert said. “And we got out and started delivering water. That was a real door-opener. The water. And, it really has grown from there.”
The group gathers up leftover bagels, bread, cinnamon rolls and cookies each week from Panera Bread in Brighton. They actually have a “Sign-Up Genius” whereby donors can supply clothes “fit to order” so they can be delivered each Saturday to those with specific needs. They hold an annual coat drive for their friends in Flint – and that’s what the needy in Flint have become, friends.
“Pope Francis said to know the poor by name, that’s why it’s so gratifying to establish ongoing relationships with these people,” Father Lobert said. “When they see us coming, sometimes they run and hug us. It is an amazing feeling.
“One lady last week said to me ‘I’m so glad you come. You take the shame out of being poor.’”
There is Monica with the broken kneecap, Sean and Ellie without coats in the cold. Olivia, who took communion right in her trailer park; and Sean, with his social issues, who still invited the group into his trailer. The list of friends goes on and on.
Ian Sood, a 16-year-old junior, is a bit of a FGR handyman. His first time on a Flint mission trip, he helped rebuild a resident’s deck.
“Another time, I noticed a man’s door wasn’t working,” Ian said. “I bought some hinges and fixed the door. It’s just a little thing, but it feels good to do it.”
Like Mia, Ian said the good feelings he received at least equals the goodwill he imparts.
“We laugh, we sing, we do God’s work,” Ian said. “Sometimes we pray with them. It’s a good feeling to know you’re helping someone who needs the help so much.”
Father Lobert said Faith in Flint missionaries intentionally target the poorest of the poor, and that they have one motivation.
“We’re not a social organization, we are performing works of mercy as Jesus taught us,” he said.
Added Ian: “It’s a way to step out of my comfort zone and to do Christ’s work in a way I never thought I would. People ask if it’s safe. Christ’s love is everywhere; He will keep us safe. We are spreading Christ’s joy.”
And, what of Mia and that beautiful blanket?
“It’s just so important to me, to know that we’re connecting the way we are,” she said. “They are the same as us, you know. We’re all just brothers and sisters.”