By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Joe Lickteig has assisted the homeless in various ways as a Knight of Columbus, but last month he got an intimate view of homelessness as he delivered supplies to individuals living in the woods, under bridges and in tent villages. “You work in food kitchens, soup kitchens and other places, but actually visiting someone who is homeless … is different and can be difficult to see.”
Lickteig and other Knights of Columbus from St. Mary-Pella Council 12334 received this up-close view when they volunteered with JOPPA Outreach in Des Moines on March 10. JOPPA’s mission is to help individuals experiencing homelessness to survive, find housing and rebuild their lives.
JOPPA’s outreach programs include weekly deliveries of survival items such as food, water, blankets, tents, clothing and portable heating systems/fuel to unsheltered individuals along five “camp routes,” said Aimee Smith, operations and client services director. The Pella KCs helped with delivery of items along one of these routes under the direction of a trained leader.
Smith noted that first-time volunteers are generally surprised by what they see on the routes. “They don’t see a ton of homeless folks in the Des Moines area, like you do in big cities,” she said. “We can see anywhere from 15-40 people per route. It’s just always changing. Each route changes from week to week. Folks are often evicted from where they are staying.”
In addition to helping with deliveries, the Pella group spent a few hours in the basement of the JOPPA center building shelving units for supply storage. These units will help JOPPA make the most of its limited storage space, Smith said. “They did a wonderful job, and were a great group to work with.”
Lickteig, a trustee and former grand knight for the council, said the trip left a big impact on the Pella KCs and they hope to make volunteering with JOPPA a regular service project. They hope to find ways to get the whole parish involved, as well.
Pella KC Mike Buchheit said, “Many of us talk about how we want to help the poor and homeless. The JOPPA organization in Des Moines experiences this reality daily.”
In addition to the camp routes, JOPPA has four “aftercare” routes that the outreach has helped to get unsheltered persons off the streets.
Between the camp and aftercare routes, JOPPA serves about 250 people weekly, Smith said. “We are in relationship with each person. We get to know them and get to know what their needs are. We bring basic supplies with us each week. Food, water, meals, toilet paper, blankets etc. If they have specific needs, they can request things, and if we have it, we will bring it to them the following week.” She noted that JOPPA does not receive government funds, making gifts of time, money and supplies essential to fulfilling the mission. “JOPPA helps people survive, find housing and rebuild their lives. So whatever a person needs, we will help them with next steps — housing, medical or whatever the case may be.”
Buchheit said, “It was a blessing for our group of men to step into the JOPPA facility and provide a hand up for the day.”