New van will help Order of Malta reach Detroit's peripheries with food, kindness
Newly blessed vehicle will deliver clothing, sandwiches to the homeless, transport guests to Malta Dental and Medical Clinic
BIRMINGHAM — Three days a week, men, women and children who can’t get enough to eat make their way to the All Saints Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry on Detroit’s west side, which serves hot meals and offers groceries to those who otherwise can’t afford them.
Some of those families can’t afford medical or dental insurance, either, and many are in dire need of care — often having put off treatment for far too long.
The Malta Dental and Medical and Clinic, a free clinic that’s served low-income Detroiters’ needs since 2004, seeks to address this need, offering vital services free of charge to those without insurance.
The only problem? The soup kitchen is six miles away from the clinic, which operates out of Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Center for the Works of Mercy in Detroit’s Midtown. And if you can't afford food, you likely can't afford a car, either.
To bridge that gap, the local Order of Malta is enlisting the help of a new cargo van, courtesy of Malta Mobile Ministries, which will help transport guests to and from the clinic, as well as serve a host of other needs as the order steps up its efforts to aid Detroiters.
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron blessed the new van Aug. 14, the vigil of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, during a “Lourdes Experience” gathering of the Order of Malta at Holy Name Parish in Birmingham.
“Like Our Lady, we too have the vocation to carry Christ to other people,” Archbishop Vigneron, a member of the Order of Malta, said during a homily prior to the blessing. “(The analogy) is a little far-fetched, but the van is a little like an Ark of the Covenant. It is a way to carry the compassion of Christ to other people. And the foundation of this is faith.”
Attending the Mass and blessing were Peter Kelly, president of the Order of Malta’s American Association, and Deacon Jeffrey Trexler, the American Association’s executive director.
Malta Mobile Ministries is a separate nonprofit that collaborates with the Order of Malta’s three U.S. associations, said Deacon Trexler, speaking to Detroit Catholic after the blessing. The order’s Western Association began the program several years ago with a fleet of vehicles serving parishes, food pantries and bringing medical and first-aid services to disaster victims, including serving those displaced by the California wildfires.
Three years ago, the Order of Malta’s American Association, which includes Michigan, joined the program with its first van operating in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. A second van was soon added in New Jersey.
“This is our third van,” Deacon Trexler told Detroit Catholic. “Hopefully by next year, we’ll have maybe three more vans on board for different areas of the United States. We have 30 chapters (in the American Association), and they all seem to be interested in this. Hopefully in the next five years, we’ll have a fleet of 30.”
Tom Larabell, president of the Malta Dental and Medical Clinic, said the van will serve a great need in the city of Detroit, transporting low-income residents to and from the clinic, as well as serving other local ministries.
The van will also be used to deliver sandwiches, clothing and boots to the homeless living on Detroit’s streets through the Order of Malta’s “Into the Fire” ministry, which began about 10 years ago through St. Leo’s Soup Kitchen, Larabell said.
"We've got a very active chapter, so our American Association asked us if we would do this," Larabell said. "Our first thought was to pick people up who can't come to the clinic, and we have another ministry, 'Into the Fire,' where we make sandwiches and deliver them on the street, along with clothing in the wintertime."
The van has been retrofitted with shelving, clothing racks and supplies to help the ministry serve in a variety of circumstances. Larabell added the van won’t just serve those living on the streets, but anyone living in the city of Detroit who needs help.
“Recently, we went to visit the Missionaries of Charity sisters on Detroit’s southwest side, and I told the nuns we were looking for places where people hang out,” Larabell said. “We told them we have the medical and dental clinic, and that we only treat people who have no insurance and no money. One of the nuns answered and said, ‘Well, we don’t have insurance. We don’t have money.’ So we’ve even transported the nuns to their appointments.”
Larabell said the Malta Dental and Medical Clinic is working on a service schedule for the van, which has already begun to serve Detroit residents.
In addition to serving those in need, the van — emblazoned with the Order of Malta’s red shield — will help Detroiters more readily recognize the order, which serves many different ministries in the Archdiocese of Detroit, Deacon Trexler said.
“The order isn’t as familiar to people in the United States as it is in Europe,” said Deacon Trexler, who serves in the Diocese of Allentown, Pa. “In Europe, we have hospitals and multiple clinics, orphanages, nursing homes and ambulance services in communities that have nothing. So this is good PR for the order.”
Locally, in addition to the Malta Dental and Medical Clinic and the “Into the Fire” ministry, the order also operates or serves at St. Leo’s Soup Kitchen in Detroit; Angels’ Place, a home for developmentally disabled individuals in Southfield; Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, a local pro-life apostolate; Mary’s Children Family Center in Clawson, which serves those with brain injuries; and the Rose Hill Center in Holly, a comprehensive psychiatric treatment program for adults with serious mental illnesses.
The order each year also sponsors a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, bringing Detroit-area malades — the French word for sick person — to the healing shrines of Our Lady of Lourdes.
“So this van is letting people know that the order exists and we’re here to serve,” Deacon Trexler said. “It’s the charism of our order: to defend the faith and to care for those in need.”