Samaritan House, Denver Rescue Mission team up to shelter homeless during blizzard

Moira Cullings

When a massive snowstorm ripped through Denver on March 13, residents took shelter in their homes, keeping warm and avoiding the dangerous conditions outside.

Those who didn’t have that luxury — particularly the city’s homeless — were left to face the elements. Although many sought shelter at the Denver Rescue Mission, the building lost power and left hundreds of women without electricity or heat.

The team at Samaritan House knew they needed to act.

“It’s just something you do as a service community,” said Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Shelter Services at Samaritan House. “You come together to take care of the less fortunate and those that are in need.”

Samaritan House opened its doors four hours earlier than normal to accommodate the women and shield them from the blizzard.

“We had women that came in, and they were just soaking wet,” said Lisa Cooper, Director of Operations at Samaritan House. “We had to replace all their clothing and get them warm.”

Sinnett explained how gracious the women were for the extra help.

“They’re dealing with a lot of challenges just being homeless,” he said, “and then you throw a storm like that on top of it — it’s very stressful.

“We just brought them in, loved on them a little bit, made sure they had hot chocolate and coffee and food to eat,” he said. “We got them out of the elements and got them in a nice, safe place.

“We do that every night,” he added. “But what made it more different was the fact that we had the elements fighting against us.”

When a blizzard hit Denver on March 13, Samaritan House went above and beyond to make sure local homeless people in need were safe and warm. Photo by Brandon Ortega, 2017

Just a few hours later, the Denver Rescue Mission was still out of power and short on meals for that night’s dinner for the men it serves. The Samaritan House staff stepped up yet again and was able to provide the Mission with 450 meals.

“The Rescue Mission would’ve done the same thing for us,” said Sinnett. “That’s just the cooperation and partnership we have with them.”

On top of everything, Samaritan House, with help from the St. Francis Center and the city of Denver, was able to transport the women it serves to its Smith Road shelter, where space was made, and beds, cots and mats were utilized for everyone who needed a place to sleep.

Cooper explained that despite the treacherous weather conditions, staff members came up big — and did so with a positive attitude.

“Our maintenance guy shoveled snow for five hours straight and didn’t complain,” she said. “It was just amazing. There was nobody arguing — there was just people being present.”

 

Sinnett, who spent the day welcoming women at the Smith Road center, saw the same positivity both in the employees and the homeless.

Denver’s winter conditions can add even more stress to those experiencing homelessness. Shelters like Samaritan House and Denver Rescue Mission provide warm food and a place to avoid the harsh elements. Photo by Brandon Ortega, 2017

“Everybody was smiling,” he said. “Nobody was stressed out. We knew we had a task ahead of us, but everybody had a ‘can do’ spirit, and we did it.”

Cooper was inspired by the work two different shelters with the same mission were able to accomplish together.

“It’s refreshing to know that we are now sincerely working as a team, and it really is a team effort to serve the homeless population of Denver,” she said.

For the Samaritan House team, it simply confirms why they do what they do.

“I’m really proud of my staff,” said Sinnett. “It just refreshes the reason we’re here, and that is to serve the poor and those in need.”

COMING UP: Thomas Fitzsimons: The unsung Catholic Founding Father 

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As our nation celebrates the day of its independence and subsequent founding as a country on July 4, a look back some lesser-knowCatholic history of this historic event seems warranted.  

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin: these are names every American knows. Pull out your wallet and you’ll likely see at least one of their faces on the money you carry aroundAnd while this nation was founded on principles rooted in Christianity, none of these men were Catholic. In fact, of the men history calls the Founding Fathers of America, only two were. 

Many may already be familiar with Founding Father Charles Carroll, a Catholic and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and whose brother John was the first Catholic bishop assigned to what would become the United States. However, Carroll was not the only Catholic who played a role in the founding of our country. The other was Thomas Fitzsimons, a name that is not mentioned much (if at all) in U.S. history classes but deserves to be recognized nonetheless.  

The unwieldy named Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, published in 1887, paints a vivid picture of Fitzsimons and the way his faith informed his character. While the other Founding Fathers were meeting and deliberating about the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons joined the Continental Army anfought on the frontlines against the British army. 

Captain Fitzsimons commanded his company of militia until 1778, when France entered the war. British troops withdrew from Pennsylvania and began to focus on the southern states. It was at this time that Fitzsimons became more involved in politics at the state level. In 1782, he became a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1786, he was elected as a Pennsylvania state legislator and served for three terms until 1789. In 1787, he was selected to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Congress, where the United States Constitution was written and ratified. He, along with Daniel Carroll, were the only two Catholics to sign to Constitution. 

Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1741, not much else is known about Fitzsimons’ family. He had three brothers – Nicholas, Andrew and John – and one sister, Ann. He and his family immigrated to America as early as 1760, where they became residents of Philadelphia. It was here that Fitzsimons would stake his claim as a businessman and politician. 

In 1763, Fitzsimons married Catharine Meade, whose brother, George Meade, would later go into business with Fitzsimons and build one of the most successful commercial trade houses in Philadelphia. Throughout his life, Fitzsimons was in close correspondence with Bishop John Carrollthese letters revealed insights into the Catholic Founding Father’s personal life. In a letter to Bishop Carroll in 1808, Fitzsimons wrote of being married to Catharine for 45 years. Additionally, local baptismal records show that he and Catharine stood as sponsors at the baptisms of three of Meade’s children. 

In 1774, Fitzsimons began his first foray into politics when he was elected as one of 13 Provincial Deputies who were given authority to call a general meeting of the citizens. It is believed he was the first Catholic to have ever held public office in the budding United States. Even so, anti-Catholic bigotry was common at the time and did exist within some of his fellow statesmen, such as John Adams, who once said in an address to the people of Great Britain that the Catholic faith was “a religion that has deluged your island in blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.” 

Fitzsimons’ first stint in public office was brief, only lasting from May to July, but it was a foreshadowing his future involvement in state affairs. As the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Fitzsimons formed a company of soldiers to fight against the British army. He was assigned to the Third Battalion under Col. Cadwalader and Lieut. Col. John Nixon, who was the grandson of a Catholic. Behind the scenes, as George Washington and the like organized committees and framed what would become the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons ascended to the rank of Captain and continued to serve his country as a soldier and patriot.

In addition to his tenure as a commanding officer and politician, Fitzsimons also found success in other ventures. In 1781, he helped found the Bank of North America, the United States’ first de facto central bank, and served as its director until 1803. The latter years of his life were spent primarily in private business, but he maintained a consistent interest in public affairs; even Fitzsimons wasn’t exempt from the old adage, “once a politician, always a politician.” 

Through all of these endeavors, and even after befalling troubled financial times in the early 1800s, Fitzsimons remained a diligent philanthropist. He gave immense support to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia and was invested in the improvement of public education in the commonwealth. As one of his contemporaries wrote after his death in 1811, “he died in the esteem, affection and gratitude of all classes of his fellow citizens.” 

Fitzsimons was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which is now part of Independence National Historical Park. His name may not be a household one like Washington or Jefferson, but Fitzsimons can be remembered as something of an unsung Founding Father of the United Statesa man whose life of quiet faith, humble service and admirable patriotism exemplifies the values that this country was founded upon in a simple yet profound way.