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Posted May 18, 2004

A Success Story of charities, and churches in La Crosse working together to help city's poor

By David J. Marcou
Catholic News Service

Since the dramatic shrinkage in governmental safety nets, people in need across America haven't always known where to go for help.

But in La Crosse Rodney Loging does know where he can go for the assistance he needs.

"I've been coming here for different things since January of '98", he said about St. Clare Health Mission. A counselor recommended the clinic, and the Barre Mills farmer applied to be treated there and was added to the patient list.

St. Clare is a free medical clinic staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses, receptionists, pharmacists, technicians and social workers. Most of them have paying jobs with local governmental agencies or with the city's two full-service hospitals/clinics, Gundersen-Lutheran Medical Center and Franciscan-Mayo Healthcare.

Sister Leclare Beres started the clinic in June 1993. The nun is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration who had previously directed La Crosse's Indo-Chinese screening clinic, begun in 1984 to treat the area's Hmong community.

In its 10-plus years St. Clare has utilized the talents of more than 600 volunteers from a variety of religious faiths.

St. Clare was started because "we realized there were many people coming to ERs (hospital emergency rooms) who needed free clinics," Sister Beres said.

She left in 2003. Her successor is Sister Dawn Kutt, who had previously worked with Blessed Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in the Caribbean. She also is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse.

Loging is grateful he can go to St. Clare. "I had health insurance at one time, but it got to be more than I can pay for. Being self-employed (and living alone), you'd have to pay for it all yourself," he said in an interview.

Loging suffers from Charcot's arthropathy, a complication of diabetic neuropathy that affects feet. It was brought on by 20 years of uncontrolled diabetes and worsened by a cow's kick. Due to the neuropathy, the bones in the feet become weakened and fractured.

St. Clare is dependent on foundation grants, donors and fund-raising events. It has a $300,000 annual budget that covers clients' medications, medical equipment and the clinic's utility bills.

St. Clare has limited hours -- on a recent evening about 40 patients were seen. But it helps enough people to make a difference, according to patients and staff.

If there were no St. Claire "for people like me," Loging said, "all I could do would be to sell my house and farm and see how long it'd last me."

But health care, crucial though it is for many people, does not comprise the only needed service in this Mississippi River city. A number of churches and charities step up to help fill the gaps for housing, food and clothing.

Several faith-based charities -- including Catholic Charities, directed by Dan Idzikowski -- give people basic benefits, help people out of work learn how to find work and help those with jobs keep them.

The Salvation Army, directed by Major Brian Burkett, runs one of two food pantries in La Crosse and also can house up to 58 families in its modern shelter. The organization also offers two meals a day to anyone who doesn't have anywhere else to eat and provides used clothing that can help create a wardrobe.

A Place of Grace offers those who are homeless and hungry a place to go during the day. Run by two full-time staffers and many volunteers, it offers hospitality hours and meals. The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and other Catholics are among those who help out.

Churches offer more direct aid to people knocking on their doors for food or money to pay bills for such necessities as utilities and prescriptions. For example, the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman handed out aid to 138 people in April 2004 alone.