More About That “Soup Kitchen” At The Center Of Florida’s TB Outbreak
The recent Palm Beach Post article entitled “Worst TB outbreak in 20 years kept secret” featured a photo of a client at Jacksonville, Florida’s Clara White Mission. According to the article, it was in the soup kitchen of the mission where “a man with active, coughing TB was recently identified, leading to the discovery that Jacksonville was in the midst of the largest TB outbreak in the country.” This was very good reporting on the part of the Palm Beach Post.
Today, I stopped by the Clara White Mission in downtown Jacksonville. It was not my first visit to the mission but I found it necessary to be there today. I found it necessary because I do not want to see the fine reputation of the mission tarnished because of the alleged shortcomings of politicians.
The Clara White Mission has been in existence for over 100 years, serving the less fortunate in the community. It was founded by a former slave who was moved into action by her compassion for others. It was here that Clara English White fed hungry neighbors from her home.
Today the mission helps feed over 10,000 homeless men, women, and children annually. The mission continues Clara White’s goal of humanitarian outreach for the less fortunate in society. But the mission is much, much more than a “soup kitchen” for the homeless.
When I arrived this morning, “Cindy” was sitting on the sidewalk outside of the mission. She told me that she had lost her job over two years ago and had left her abusive husband. She comes to the mission daily for a good meal, prayer, and understanding from the staff. “I don’t know what I’d do without this mission”, she told me. In tears, she said it was near impossible for people like her to get help these days: “Thank God for the mission, it’s the one thing keeping me alive.” Contrary to popular misconceptions about Jacksonville’s homeless, she did not ask me for a cigarette or for money.
The mission has an education center to help people like “Cindy” get back on their feet. The mission provides a 20-week Culinary education program where clients can learn about, and become certified in the food service industry. Out back, there is a garden where the mission grows its own vegetables and herbs for meals. The garden is a little parched this time of year, as are most Florida gardens, but in the spring and fall it is overflowing with good, organic, produce.
The mission runs Ashley Street Catering where students gain hands-on experience running a catering business. Ashley Street Catering can fulfill any need for office parties, or other events: “Whether your event is for 15 or 750 guests we will guide you through, from planning to complete implementation.” They can handle corporate events, themed events, and weddings with professionalism with well trained and certified staff. Clara’s At The Cathedral is an upscale cafe that has operated since 2007 through a collaboration with St. Johns’ Cathedral.
In addition to the Culinary Apprenticeship Program and the opportunity to receive a Diploma in Culinary Arts with an internship, the mission also has an 18-week Janitorial-Environmental Program which “provides students with a broad range of educational experiences, combining intensive hands-on job training, with classroom instruction to reinforce learning. Upon completion of the program, graduates have the necessary skills to secure entry to mid-level employment.”
The Culinary Arts Apprenticeship and Diploma Program, along with the Janitorial-Environmental Diploma Program are part of the Clara White Training Center which is certified by the State of Florida Commission of Independent Education.
In keeping with its core mission of helping the homeless, the Clara White Mission’s Housing Program is designed “to move homeless participants to permanent housing and independent living within 24 months. Residents are required to be working or in school, participate in case-management and life-skills classes, complete a mental-health assessment and, if indicated, engage in mental-health counseling. Residents are also required to maintain sobriety. “During fiscal year 2006-07, 85 people were housed, with one percent remaining in housing for less than one month. Twenty percent were with us from one-to-two months, 51% from three-to-six months, 17% from seven-to-twelve months, and 11% were enrolled for more than 13 months.”
The mission also serves as a drop-in day center. All of this is very impressive for a “soup kitchen.”
The Clara White Mission holds events year-round. For Thanksgiving, they hold a large event to feed the homeless. My wife and I have volunteered in the past to help serve and, literally, hundreds come through the line. I formerly held the position of Human Resources Manager at a factory in a run-down neighborhood in downtown Jacksonville. I regularly stopped by the mission and handed out business cards. I knew that people who I hired from the mission were well fed, clean, and sober. They were eager to work and I was happy to give them a hand up.
I was not worried about coming in contact with tuberculosis on my visit to the mission today. Shortly after the City of Jacksonville was informed of the alleged covered-up report sent to the State of Florida by the CDC, Mayor Alvin Brown’s staff, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and homeless shelters formed the Jacksonville Community Tuberculosis Coalition. The coalition performs regular site visits to area homeless shelters and is testing at county shelters and missions.
According to the Florida Times-Union “The coalition is modeling its protocol on that of the Sulzbacher Center, which according to center President Cindy Funkhouser hasn’t had an active case of tuberculosis in more than two years. Everyone who comes to the center is tested for tuberculosis, not the typical course of action.”
The Clara White Mission should not be tarnished by the failings of state officials who, for whatever reason, failed or delayed to inform local officials of the CDC report on tuberculosis. Thanks to the fine reporting by the Palm Beach Post and the Florida Times-Union, perhaps we can get to the bottom of this tragedy so that it is not repeated.
Please consider supporting the fine work being done at the Clara White Mission.
By Jim Weeks
Palm Beach Post: Worst TB outbreak in 20 years kept secret
Florida Times-Union: Florida, Duval health departments defend response to TB outbreak