Aurora’s Friends of St. Andrews soup kitchen on Colfax living on borrowed time

1277

AURORA | Homeless and struggling Aurora residents seeking a hot meal and access to essentials like a phone and a bathroom on East Colfax Avenue could soon be left without another provider in the area.

The Friends of St. Andrews soup kitchen at Colfax and Dallas Street could soon be faced with a 30 day notice that it will need to find a new location. The building recently was left to Regis University by Ralph Friend after he died in 2016 to help fund college scholarships. As part of that bequeathment, Friends of St. Andrews, which is run by Queen of Peace Catholic Church, had first right of refusal to purchase the building, but the two groups couldn’t come to an agreement.

“We want to stay here as long as possible,” said Siobhan Larimer, director of Friends of St. Andrews. “After 32 years, people know we’re here. We serve about 100 to 150 guests a day.”

The soup kitchen, which claims to be the only one operating in Aurora, serves about 27,000 people a year. For 11 months a year, it offers hot meals on weekdays and customized food baskets — for those with shelter and those who are homeless. The shelter is also a place to have mail sent to and use the phone.

During the one month the facility is closed for maintenance and repairs, the organization sets up shop in a park down the street and offers the hot food and food baskets while still providing a chance to pick up mail.

“Our phones went down the other day and we heard our guests asking what they were going to do,” Larimer said. “There are so few public pay phones left, and you have to have money to use them.”

Rev. Felix Medina-Algaba, a pastor at Queen of Peace, said that after the property transitioned to Regis’ ownership, the two groups made appraisals of the property, a turn-of-the-century building. While the amount between the two appraisal was close, Medina-Algaba said the church’s offer of trying to pay for the building in some form of installment payments instead of a lump sum was rejected.

Medina-Algaba and Larimer both said the mission of the soup kitchen would continue no matter what happened with the property. But if they were not able to find a home near where they are now, the type of impact it could have and the community it serves would be left without a major component of services they rely on .  

“We are looking right now (for a new home). We’ve been looking around Colfax. We don’t want to go far away from there,” Medina-Algaba said. “We have an emergency plan to go to another Catholic food bank close by, but we don’t have any plan after that. We have been looking and talking with nonprofits around Colfax, but so far we don’t have a place.”

Maureen Price, a volunteer for about nine years at Friends of St. Andrews, said she has developed relationships with the guests who come in to get a warm meal. The food is critical for many people there, whether they’re homeless or they are living on such a restricted income that the lunches the helps them afford rent and medicine. But along with that, for many guests, this is the one place they feel like they belong.

“You get to know everyone here,” Price said. “They have somebody sometimes to unburden themselves to. Somebody who isn’t going to judge them or put them down because of the predicament they’re in.”

Jennifer Forker, spokesperson for Regis, sent The Sentinel a statement about the contract negotiations.

“Regis University and Queen of Peace Catholic Church both serve the people of God and both must honor the wishes of their donors,” according to the statement. “Regis has the utmost respect for the good work of the Queen of Peace hospitality center. Mr. Friend obviously valued the good work of both organizations. He permitted the building the be used for the benefit of Queen of Peace for many years, and upon his death, he wanted to use the sale of the property to fund scholarships for Regis University students who will serve the common good.” 

Regis officials were unavailable for further comment.