Spreading God’s love, one blanket at a time

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez

Growing up in the streets of Brooklyn, Patrick Lubrano knew what it was like to see people living on the streets and being cold in the winter months. You could see him taking an extra sandwich or a blanket on his way to school to give to a person in need. Years down the road, this intense call to help the poor developed into a ministry that now provides meals and clothing for many people in need in the Mile-High city.

“We were raised that way: you help when you can. We knew it was an essential part of our faith,” said Lubrano, parishioner at Assumption Parish in Denver and a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus. “We are all different, whether it’d be because of culture, nationality, religion or political views, but we are all human beings and need to help each other out, regardless of where you come from or your beliefs.”

Even though his personal ministry of bringing blankets and food to the poor was in a way present from his childhood, it was in 1994 when he started doing it more consistently and intentionally.

“I would find homeless people in the area, and every time I had extra money, I’d load up my car and bring them food and clothing,” he said.

He did it for five years until he moved to Arizona. But the ministry didn’t stop there, it only changed according to circumstances. The district where he worked bordered a complex with an impoverished community, and he knew he couldn’t keep his arms crossed.

He started bringing them food throughout the year, but especially for special dates, like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, with the help of other coworkers. He also organized parties for them three times a year. When he started working for the Phoenix Suns, the Suns and the Arizona Rattlers even started giving him toys and clothes for the children.

Yet after moving back to Brooklyn and returning to Arizona a year later, he found that the complex had been demolished and the people had been scattered.

When Lubrano and his family moved to Denver just over three years ago, he also brought his mission to this city, but had an encounter that pushed him to do more.

Patrick Lubrano’s desire to help the poor was planted by his parents, who taught him and his siblings that giving was an essential part of the Christian faith. (Photo provided)

“When I got here to Denver, I saw the growing population in the streets of Denver,” he said. “I saw a man freezing with a sign that read, ‘Anything helps.’ As I gave him a blanket, he noticed my Knights of Columbus baseball cap and asked me, ‘What council are you with?’, and then told me, ‘I’m a former priest.’”

Taken back by his response, Lubrano asked him to get in the car so he could help him, but the man replied, “It’s ok, I just love being Catholic, and I love what you’re doing right now. Thank you.” So Lubrano gave him two more blankets, $20 and his phone number before leaving.

“It just overwhelmed me to see one of my own suffer like that,” he said.

This experience prompted him to reach out to the Grand Knight of his Council and seek support to give blankets to the homeless in Denver. The council funded the first few hundred dollars to buy blankets, clothing and food.

Knowing he had to seek support from more people, he started a GoFundMe page and in a few months went from raising $500 to around $4,000, affording close to 500 blankets, plus food, shirts, socks and more.

“I’m compelled to do it because I see the need. I don’t give up on anyone, I believe in second and third chances,” Lubrano said. “I also want people to see that Catholics are good people and that the Knights of Columbus help so many.”

It’s mainly Lubrano himself who visits the homeless and hands out blankets, clothing and food. His experience as former law enforcement has helped him do it safely, since he acknowledges that, at times, the ministry requires him to put himself in vulnerable situations. Nonetheless, in his interactions, he has mainly seen people’s gratitude and amiability.

“Sometimes when I see someone on a bench or on the floor, I stop to see if they’re OK, and then I ask if it’s OK to give them a blanket or a pillow. The fear is that people are freezing to death in the streets,” he said.

During this winter, Lubrano’s ministry has allowed him to provide around 500 blankets, food and clothing to people in need in the city of Denver. (Photo provided)

“It’s overwhelming at times because I’m by myself, but my wife is so supportive. Sometimes I go out at 9 p.m. and my wife says, ‘But it’s freezing out!’ And I say, ‘That’s why I’m going out, because it’s freezing.’ And she’ll just smile and say, ‘Just be careful.’”

Lubrano knows that sometimes Catholics feel a deep longing to help but are overwhelmed because they don’t know how to do it or where to begin. But he added that it’s not always necessary to do it in person like he does.

“Start in your church to see if they’re collecting clothing or food. Help your food banks. There’s a lot of people struggling financially right now, help them in some way,” he added. “But to see the need of these people and to not do anything about it, that’s a tragedy if you have the ability to help.

“I would like people to know that the Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus are solid, and we are here to help. If you need to reach out to us, then reach out to us. Reach out to the Knights of Columbus Council at your parish,” Lubrano concluded. “I say to all my fellow Catholics, if you see somebody struggling, find someone who can help them, send them to Church, shelters, food banks… If we did that as a whole community, we’d be helping everyone.”

Contact Patrick Lubrano: patricklubrano@yahoo.com

COMING UP: Lessons on proper elder care after my mother’s death

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We buried my Mom last month. 

In the summer of last year, I first drove her to her new memory care facility. My heart was breaking. She was so scared and vulnerable but was trying so hard to be brave. My brother said it was like taking your kid to pre-school for the first time. And never going back to pick her up. 

But we had to do it. She was far too confused for our 97-year-old Dad to take care of her. She didn’t recognize him. She would lock herself in her room, afraid of the “strange man” in their apartment. She wasn’t eating well, and with COVID restrictions we couldn’t get into her independent living facility to monitor her diet or her health. Worst of all, she would wander. Unable to recognize “home” and unable to convince anybody to come get her, she would set off by herself. Dad would realize she was missing and frantically try to find her. Fortunately for us, she always attempted her escapes when the night security guard was at his desk. But we were terrified that some evening she would get out while he was away, and she would roam out into the winter night. 

We knew that, without round the clock support, we couldn’t keep her safe in any of our homes either. So, we concluded that she needed to be placed in a secure memory care facility. I think it was one of the hardest decisions my family has ever faced. We researched. We consulted experts. We hired a placement agency. We came close to placing her in one home, then chickened out because we felt like the owner was pressuring us.  

Finally, we landed on what looked like the best facility for our needs. They specialized in memory care, and we were assured that the staff had been trained to care for people with dementia. They took notes about her diet, health, likes and dislikes. Most important, it was a secured facility. They knew that Mom wandered, and their secured doors and round the clock caregiver oversight seemed like the best way to keep her safe. It was the most expensive facility we had seen. But we figured her safety and well-being were worth it. 

On Jan. 12, Mom was found in that facility’s back yard. Frozen to death.  

She had let herself out through an unsecured exterior door, unnoticed and unimpeded, on a cold winter evening. No one realized she was missing until the next morning.  A health department investigator told me that she had been out there at least 12 hours. Which means caregivers over three shifts failed to recognize her absence. I’m told she was wearing thin pants, a short-sleeved shirt and socks. The overnight low was 20 degrees. 

We are devastated. Beyond devastated. Frankly, I don’t know that it has completely sunk in yet. I think the brain only lets in a little horror at a time. I re-read what I just wrote, and think “Wow, that would be a really horrible thing to happen to a loved one.” 

I debated what my first column after Mom’s death would look like. I have felt compelled, in social media, to celebrate the person my Mom was and the way she lived. To keep the memory alive of the truly amazing person she was. But I think I did it mostly to distract my mind from the horror of how she died. 

But I am feeling more compelled, in this moment, to tell the story of how she died. Because I think it needs to be told. Because others are struggling with the agonizing decision to place a parent in memory care. Because when we were doing our research, we would have wanted to know that these kind of things happen. 

I am not naming the facility here. It will be public knowledge when the Colorado Department of Health and Environment report is completed. From what I am told, they are horrified at what happened and are working very hard to make sure it never happens again.

My point here is much bigger. I am discovering the enormous problems we face in senior care, particularly in the era of COVID. I was told by someone in the industry that, since the facilities are locked down and families can’t get in to check on their loved ones, standards are slipping in many places. With no oversight, caregivers and managers are getting lazy. I was in regular communication with Mom’s house manager, and I raised flags every time I suspected a problem. But you can only ascertain so much in phone conversations with a dementia patient. 

Now, since her death, we have discovered that her nightly 2 a.m. bed check — a state mandated protocol — had only been done once in the ten days before her death. She could have disappeared on any of those nights, and no one would have realized it. 

I have wracked my brain, to figure out what we could have done differently. The facility had no previous infractions. Their reputation was stellar. Their people seemed very caring. Their web site would make you want to move in yourself. 

Knowing what I know now, I would have asked some very specific questions. How are the doors secured? Are they alarmed? Is the back yard accessible at night? Are bed checks actually done every night? Who checks the logs to confirm? 

I would check for infractions at the CDPHE web site. Then I would find out who owns the facility, and do some online stalking. Is this a person with a history of caring for the elderly, or just someone who has jumped into the very trendy, very profitable business of elder care? I am very concerned that, for many, this “business model” is built on maximizing profits by minimizing compensation for front line workers — the people actually caring for our loved ones. 

Dad is living with me now. We are not inclined to trust any facilities with his care. Watching him grieve has been heartbreaking. If you talk to him, do me a favor and don’t mention how she died. It’s hard enough to say good-bye to his wife of nearly 60 years, without having to grapple with this, too. 

I am, frankly, still in disbelief. I don’t know exactly where I am going from here. But I do know one thing. I want my Mom’s death to spur a closer look at the way we care for our vulnerable elderly. 

Because I don’t want what happened to my Mom to happen to another vulnerable elderly person again. Ever.