An archdiocesan ministry is helping at-risk families with everything from nappies to detergents, car seats to counseling.

Located at the Padre Pio Prayer Center in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, the Cenacle offers pregnancy and parenting education, material assistance, health information and workshops.

The outreach, launched in July 2021, is a collaboration between the Archdiocese’s Catholic Social Services (CSS), the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia and the Capuchin Friars of Padre Pio Convent. In addition to the CSS staff, the Sisters of Life and the Capuchin Brothers are also regularly present.

The Cenacle (from the Latin cena, “supper”) was the upper room in which the Last Supper took place, and in which the Apostles, Mary and the first community of believers awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit. The site is also believed to be the location of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection to the frightened apostles.

And with pantries for food and diapers, a brand new laundry room and large multi-purpose spaces, the Archdiocesan Cenacle provides a safe and welcoming space for families struggling with poverty, violence and uncertainty. .

“Here I have peace and quiet, my own little center where no one bothers me,” said Megan, a young mother whose five children range in age from 2 to 12.

The neighborhood resident said she comes once a week to the Upper Room for laundry services and diapers.

“It helps people who are struggling,” she said. “Between me and my kids, it’s $35 a week just for laundry, not including detergent.”

Elsy Alvarenga and other Cenacle Philadelphia patrons receive instruction on proper car seat use. (Gina Christian)

Only a handful of laundromats are nearby, she said, and “the ones you find, everyone’s fighting over the big washing machines and the dryers don’t work.”

Layers are another draw, Megan added.

“I have three in diapers, and a small bag is $10, with 23 in a pack,” she said. “I change them six or seven times a day, so it goes really fast.”

The numbers add up for other families as well, said Cenacle program director Fredeswinda Rodriguez. Since its opening, the Cénacle has distributed nearly 22,000 diapers and nearly 84,000 wipes to parents in need.

That’s in addition to nearly 2,300 baby outfits, more than 70 baby baths, and dozens of car seats, playsets, infant formula containers, and play mats.

But Rodriguez said she and her team aren’t just handing out supplies; instead, they offer “one-to-one tutoring” on the proper use of baby equipment.

Mercedes Mayorquin examines baby clothes at the Cenacle in Philadelphia, a ministry for expectant mothers, children and families. (Gina Christian)

For pack-and-plays — portable cribs that double as safe play areas — “we show them how to open it, get the baby to sleep safely, and close it,” Rodriguez said. “We show them an instructional video, but we also ask them to do it in front of us, to make sure they actually know how.”

The same goes for car seats, which a 2015 federal study found were used incorrectly 46% of the time.

“With car seats, we talk about how to lock it, how to put your baby in it properly, when to change it,” Rodriguez said.

The ministry also ensures expectant parents complete birth certificate applications — a task that can be a challenge for those with limited English, she said.

Cenacle clients themselves are now beginning to engage in problem-solving discussions based on their own experiences, said parenting educator Aimee Cantwell.

After a recent parenting class, three new mothers — all living in neighborhoods hit by rising crime rates in Philadelphia — exchanged notes about “where they live and what they can’t do,” Cantwell said. .

“A lot of the conversation was about moving from home to car,” she said. “That’s all they really do, because they don’t really want to be in their neighborhood.”

Two of the mothers, both from the nearby section of Kensington, stayed for several hours after the Cenacle class because they “don’t feel safe outside, but they feel safe here,” Cantwell said. “That’s the whole point of building this community.”

Along with the CSS, the Pro-Life Union and the Capuchins, donors are an essential part of the Cenacle’s ministry, Rodriguez said, citing “an abundance” of donations from “local and suburban parishes, parents (and) Sisters of life”.

Pack-and-plays are made available through a collaboration with the city’s public health department, while weekly food donations are delivered from Manna on Main Street in Lansdale and then combined with the ranger’s own stock. eat from the convent for distribution on Thursday.

With its range of resources, the Cenacle works to “eliminate abortion as an option” by addressing the financial, material, emotional and spiritual deficits that contribute to it, Rodriguez said.

In the long term, awareness focuses on five protective factors that can prevent child maltreatment: social and emotional competence; knowledge of parenting and child development; social connections; concrete support and resilience.

The Elements are part of the Strengthening Families program, an internationally recognized social service model originally developed in the 1980s by psychologist Karol L. Kumpfer and now widely implemented across the United States. CSS uses the program in a number of its agencies across the archdiocesan five-county area.

“We bring a genuine testimony to the community that we care for every human life at every stage of development,” Rodriguez said.