No one gets nostalgic about a homeless shelter. Still, Ann Marie McCann has her memories.
The shelter in question was housed, for four weeks a year, in a former convent building on the campus of her parish church, St. Catharine’s in Glen Rock. Parishioners would shelter, feed and befriend homeless families enrolled in Family Promise’s shelter network of houses of worship around Bergen County.
The network shelter system was suspended with the advent of COVID in March 2020, and subsequently terminated. Moving from place to place each week, while better than some alternatives, was simply too hard on many families.
Now, Family Promise of Bergen County is committed to opening a permanent shelter where families can stay while trying to become self-sufficient. It’s a plan that Ann Marie, who for the past year has been a member of the FPBC board, fervently supports and eagerly awaits.
But she also treasures her memories of the way things were.
She remembers when a parent staying at St. Catharine’s learned that she’d gotten a new job, and the time one of the visiting families learned it had gotten its own apartment. She recalls playing with kids in the evenings and feeling good to be able to give a single mother a badly needed break. And she felt blessed that the parish’s priests – Father Tom, Father Joe and Pam Biggs first welcomed Family Promise to St Catharine; and that for years the parish enabled her to get to know Family Promise and the incredible families in the network.
She remembers the challenges of hosting families — “We didn’t know what we were getting into at first’’– such as coming up with a varied week-long menu that didn’t lean too often on entrees like pasta or chicken. And she remembers the rewards, such as seeing so many fellow parishioners get involved, giving supplies and meals and spending evenings and overnights with the families — with so little prompting.
She recognized that the work was its own reward, and that it was important to just be present to the families, without expectations. If someone didn’t like the meal or didn’t want to engage in activities, she didn’t take it personally. She realized how stressful homelessness actually was: “The idea of families being shuttled around from congregation to congregation was overwhelming to me. Being at a new place every week. Meeting new volunteers every night.’’
These days, she’s a regular volunteer at Family Promise’s nightly dinner for the hungry and homeless at the county shelter in Hackensack. Most of the people she meets while delivering meals to motels, or at the shelter, are single adults, not families with kids.
But she looks forward to again meeting and helping families at the new FP shelter, which the agency is calling the Family Promise Center.
Ann Marie is the youngest of the nine McCann siblings, whose parents moved from the Bronx to Bergen County before Ann Marie was born. She grew up in Bergenfield and attended Catholic grammar and high schools and Fairleigh Dickinson University.
She worked in Manhattan for an insurance company for 34 years. She retired in January this year and is enjoying the time to travel, volunteer and reconnect with family and friends.