Sacred Heart ministry helps thousands of families with food, clothing

Sun News correspondentFebruary 26, 2014 

Roberto Martinez-Perez has been the Sacred Heart Catholic Church’s Christian Service Center director for eight years.

MICHAEL W. PANNELL — Special to The Sun News

  • Sacred Heart Christian Service Center

    Address: 136 Northview Ave., Warner Robins
    Phone: 478-929-3897
    Leadership: Roberto Martinez-Perez, director
    Hours: 10 a.m.-2:45 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday

WARNER ROBINS -- Sacred Heart Catholic Church’s Christian Service Center has provided help to people for almost 30 years.

The Service Center is across from Sacred Heart Church off South Davis Drive on Northview Avenue. It provides financial and commodities support to people in need in Warner Robins, Kathleen, Bonaire and Centerville.

“We celebrate 30 years in September,” said Roberto Martinez-Perez, the ministry’s director for eight years. “We provide utilities assistance, rent assistance, assistance with prescription drugs and operate a free clothes closet and food pantry.”

The clothes closet occupies an approximately 75-foot by 25-foot space in a former sanctuary facility on South Davis and is open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Martinez-Perez said client families get 10 items per family member. He said between 20 and 50 families visit the clothes ministry each day.

Clothes are available through donations from parishioners, but they are accepted from anyone.

Martinez-Perez said the food pantry provides goods to families at the Northview facility Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the Service Center’s 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. hours.

“Families can receive food once every 90 days,” he said. “We buy most of our goods from the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank and pay 18 cents per pound for food. We also get donated canned goods from parishioners and other organizations. Schools and businesses like Chick-fil-A have canned good drives and fundraisers for us from time to time. What people get depends on family size and what we have on hand.”

Martinez-Perez said meats typically include USDA turkey and chicken provided through the food bank. If those aren’t available, they have hot dogs.

“We at least have hot dogs even if we have to buy them on our own,” he said. “I’m looking for an arrangement with a local meat or poultry producer to help supplement stock when supplies are low.”

Martinez-Perez said the food pantry supplies other needs like disposable diapers, toiletries and toilet paper. “We always have toilet paper,” he said. “We have to maintain that as a minimum.”

Financial help is available during regular Service Center hours. Martinez-Perez said per-requisites for assistance include providing a picture ID, proof of residence, a needs assessment interview and household income information. He said assistance is on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Financial assistance is available once a year per household,” Martinez-Perez said. “Assistance is usually up to $75 but can go up to $100 or $125 depending on the situation. The bulk of our funding comes from Sacred Heart, but we also have a separate account that other churches occasionally contribute to help people. It’s called the Inner City Relief Fund and supplements financial support.”

Martinez-Perez said Sacred Heart gives 10 percent of its offerings to the Service Center, and other funds come from individual donations and civic and parish organizations. He said his annual budget is about $110,000. He said from $75,000 to $97,000 goes to aid families.

Other services at the center include Thanksgiving food baskets, a Christmas Angel Tree, brown bag lunches for seniors, occasional provision of overnight hotel stays and more.

Overall Martinez-Perez said 3,500 to 4,000 families are helped a year.

“I’m full-time, and we have one part-time worker who keeps the reports,” he said. “At our heart is almost 50 volunteers who serve shifts throughout the week. We have volunteers who serve clients during regular hours, who do interviews, who pick up stock and do many, many other tasks. They’re great. One, Eva Seibenmorgan, has been here since the beginning, 30 years. We’re blessed with faithful volunteers.”

Martinez-Perez retired from the Air Force in 2000. He was a lieutenant colonel working as a bio-environmental engineer. He and his wife, Elisa, have a history of ministry to others and established Sacred Heart’s Hispanic ministry. Elisa Martinez-Perez works for Houston Medical Center as an interpreter for pregnant women.

“This work is more than rewarding,” Martinez-Perez said. “Father Fred (Nijem) asked me for three years here, and it’s turned into eight. The best thing is getting a little note or card from a client, just a simple thank you for helping. You don’t get one every day or every month, but you get three or four a year. It really makes me smile.”

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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