Soup and Bread

S&B in the field: Casa Catalina


The Casa Catalina Basic Human Needs Center is a food pantry and resource center offering food, clothing, vaccinations, medical screening, legal referrals, and baby supplies to  residents of Back of the Yards — basically 35th to 51st streets between Racine and Western. It’s run by Catholic Charities, but for all practical purposes it’s run by one 70-year-old nun.


Sr. Joellen Tumas has been working in Back of the Yards most of her life, has been the driving force behind the food pantry since 1990, and appears to have no intention of stopping anytime soon. Dawn Turner Trice wrote a great column about her in 2010, about a year after I first met her — Casa Catalina being one of the very first food pantries in the Soup & Bread family — and some of you may remember her from our book party a few years back; she was the nun who brought a packed room to a dead hush when she spoke. I’ve been down to visit Casa Catalina a couple of times since then; here’s a report from early 2011.


On this visit I dropped off $645 from S&B, and then tried to stay out of the way as a volunteer crew of retirees and students loaded up tables with frozen chicken and turkey, stuffed produce into bags, and stacked cans of peanut butter almost above their heads. I was particularly curious to find out how recent cuts to SNAP and federal unemployment benefits had affected the pantry, especially given this year’s harsh winter weather. Below, Sr. Joellen speaks to that question, and more, on shaky iPhone video.

All afternoon a steady flow of people wheeled carts through the line, praising the unusually warm weather (it was all of 35 degrees), handing over cards listing the number of people in their household — 1, 2, 4, 7 — and packing up food for the week. I wasn’t able to talk much with them myself — their privacy being more important than my nosy questions — but according to Sr. Joellen, most are from the neighborhood, and most at least have housing (proof of address being required for food assistance). But, she noted, “sometimes you just get a gut feeling that you can’t turn someone away.”  I eavesdropped as one young woman thanked Sr. Joellen for her help. “I would do anything for this woman,” she said, turning to me. “She needs a toilet scrubbed, a house painted — I’m there. I don’t know what we would do without her.”

Posted: Sunday Feb 23,2014 10:14 PM In Uncategorized

Leave a Reply


Susbscribe to our awesome Blog Feed or Comments Feed