Abandoned laundromat that is now Catholic outreach center helps change lives

Father Sengole Gnanaraj, administrator of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Richmond, Ind., says a prayer before using holy water to bless David’s House in Richmond Sept. 10, 2023. Tony Talbert, looking on at right, is president of the Tri-County Good Samaritans conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which opened the center as a new ministry. (OSV News photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Criterion)

by Natalie Hoefer

RICHMOND, Ind. (OSV News) — An abandoned laundromat might seem an odd place to transform into a Society of St. Vincent de Paul facility for community outreach.

But then, the story of David’s House in Richmond in the Indianapolis Archdiocese is all about transformation.

Yes, there is the changing of a building from decrepit to gleaming white and welcoming. But there also is the transformation of a site of despair — the unsolved mystery of a missing woman last seen at the laundromat in 2001 — to one of hope where those in poverty will find a hand up.

And there is the story of David Marshall, who selected the site. His own transformation and tragic death at age 37 led to the naming of the new facility in his honor.

Then, there are the untold stories to come of those whose lives will be changed through David’s House.

“It took a village to get to this point,” said Tony Talbert, president of the TriCounty Good Samaritans conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that launched the ministry. He spoke during a blessing ceremony at the facility in September.

“But now (this site is) going to allow us to help people that are marginalized, to help the impoverished find hope, to find joy in the works that we do here.”

Those works will include providing healthy food in what is considered a “food desert” area, conducting cooking classes with an eye toward nutritional but budget-friendly items, and offering SVdP’s Changing Lives Forever program to help individuals transform and pull themselves out of poverty.

The journey to David’s House began in July 2019 when the Tri-County Good Samaritan conference was founded. It’s comprised of members from three parishes in three counties: St. Bridget of Ireland in Liberty in Union County; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Richmond in Wayne County; and St. Gabriel in Connersville in Fayette County.

During the blessing ceremony, Talbert shared with the roughly 30 participants a saying he recently heard: “The great ones don’t say, ‘I accept what I can’t change.’ They say, ‘I change what I can’t accept.’ What we as Tri-County Good Samaritans can’t accept is poverty.”

The conference first built on a furniture ministry already established at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

“We help families that are marginalized and impoverished get gently used furniture,” Talbert explained. “When they come to our warehouse to pick up their furniture, we don’t want to make that a transaction like, ‘Here’s your furniture, see you later.’ We learn more about them and how else we can help them.”

“So, that furniture program is now a way for us to build relationships to get them into our other programs” at David’s House, he said.

One of the programs that will be offered is Changing Lives Forever. The 18-week course teaches qualified applicants how to lift themselves out of poverty, then offers graduates the help of a mentor for 18-24 months, Talbert explained. The second major program is using the facility’s new kitchen to teach those in need how to cook healthy meals on a budget.

“If impoverished people eat better, they spend less on health care and more on other needs like housing and transportation,” Talbert noted. Classes have not begun yet, but Talbert said the hope is to offer them monthly or even more often, depending on interest and the availability of instructors.

The kitchen at David’s House also will serve as a source to “become financially independent,” said Talbert.

One way will be through offering classes to the general public. Some of those classes each year will focus on favorite recipes of the priests of the three parishes in the tri-county region.

“They’re going to pick their favorite meal, and then we’ll teach people how to prepare those (dishes) and give them the recipes,” said Talbert. “Then at the end (of the class), we’ll have a meal with the priest.”

Another unique source of funds from the David’s House kitchen will be products prepared there by volunteers.

“We’ll have our own food label — ‘David’s House’ — where we will sell food here and eventually in grocery stores as time goes on,” said Talbert.

“The team is in product development now,” he said, listing spices, maple syrup and soups as some current ideas.

Making the products as well as fresh produce available for purchase at David’s House will not only raise funds, but also help those in the area.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s administrator Father Sengole Gnanaraj called David’s House a “huge blessing for the community.
Richmond has ministries for the poor led by other denominations, he told The Criterion, Indianapolis’ archdiocesan newspaper. “But this is the first Catholic ministry that is going to directly impact people. These (volunteers) are the hands and feet of Christ.”

During the ceremony, Father Gnanaraj called for God to bless “this building, all those who work here and those who enter here. May they all be in peace and in God’s providence.”

That prayer was already being answered, according to two women deeply impacted by the presence of David’s House.

“My sister came up missing here (at the laundromat) 22 years ago, July 22nd, 2001,” recalled Tammie Hughes of her sibling, Marilyn Renee Nicole “Niqui” McCown. “It was on a Sunday. She went to church, and the last time we saw her was that Saturday. It was a couple weeks before her wedding. . . We’ve been looking for her ever since.”

Hughes, who can see the facility from her porch, said “it’s turned into a beautiful sight.”

“It’s positive because of the simple fact that (our family has) had so much negativity from what happened with my sister,” she said. “We need some kind of positivity and hope. And that’s what this place has given us.”

Vicky Greer agreed. She is the mother of David Marshall, for whom David’s House is named.
“David liked to help people — that’s just who he was,” she said. “This facility, having it named for him, it means a lot — I can’t even put an amount on it.”

“He had issues with drugs, but he was clean when we met,” Talbert recalled.

Marshall started volunteering with the furniture ministry and became not just a member of the Tri-County conference but also “a friend of mine,” said Talbert, noting it was Marshall who selected the abandoned laundromat as the perfect place for the conference’s new ministry.

He said he and his wife, Donna, worked to convince Marshall to become a spokesperson for SVdP and “communicate the message that mindsets can be changed, and (doing so) will bring greater fulfillment to life,” he said.

Talbert recalled the night last year when Marshall finally said yes.

“I was driving. He had just said to me, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll be a spokesperson for St. Vincent de Paul.’
“The next second we were hit by a drunk driver. David was killed. It was April 23, the same day (the) St. Vincent de Paul (Society) was founded in 1833.”

Greer said her son “would absolutely love what’s being done here” at David’s House.

It will be a special place, too, for those in the Vaile neighborhood where it’s located, said Acacia St. John, program director for Forward Wayne County and a member of the Wayne County Foundation. “It’s a high poverty area, a lot of low-income residents,” said St. John, who was at the blessing and opening of the center.

Marshall “gave us the confidence that people can transform and turn into incredible people, into the person that’s truly inside them,” said Talbert.

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