Walking through the old Sacred Heart School that houses the Franciscan Center, he smiles at everyone he meets. Anyone can see he's in “his element,” as he puts it.Having worked for GE Healthcare for 22 years, Christie provided well for his family. As he assumed positions with more responsibility, he also won awards for his professionalism and sales ability.
In 1999, however, the death of his 6-month-old daughter from complications due to the pregnancy put things in perspective.
“It was a blessing, even though we lost a daughter,” he recalled. “I realized what was important: family and God.”
Christie then scaled back on his work responsibilities, returning to sales, to be closer to his family and to devote more time to serving God.
Christie first became involved six years ago with the Franciscan Center, which this year celebrates its 20th year of serving the community's needy. He saw an announcement in his church bulletin saying the center's sack lunch program needed volunteers. He and his family began delivering sack lunches every Saturday to needy people in southeast Fort Wayne.
As Christie and his family embraced the ministry to deliver sack lunches “to Jesus” through the years, his wife, Diane, once asked him, “You're in your element, aren't you?” Christie said “Yes.”
Joining the center's board in 2008, he felt he should do more. He said, “The last two years of volunteering, my focus started changing.”
For various reasons, Christie didn't attend his first board meeting until February of this year. As he walked out the door on his way to that meeting, he said aloud to himself, “Today starts the first day of the rest of my life.” He also prayed, “Lord, use me as you will at the Franciscan Center. Please, make it clear.”
The next day he received a call from Sally Ley, the center's CEO. She had been interested in reducing her workload and asked Christie to apply for the executive director's position. Christie said, “It was so given by God that I didn't have a resume.”
After meeting with the executive committee of the board in April, he was named executive director in May. He assumed his duties June 15.
He said, “I felt like I was being called to serve to be more in line with God's will. When you are doing God's will, you are at peace with what you are doing.”
Ley said of Christie's appointment as executive director, “Jim has always been a faithful servant. He didn't think it was just interesting to do (to be executive director), he felt it was his mission.”The Franciscan Center was founded in 1989 by Ley and the late Jean Kelly. They operated a homeless shelter and provided sack lunches for the hungry on the streets.
They based the organization on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, who advocated a life of poverty, humility and love for the disadvantaged.
Ley and Larry Wright, a man who once had been homeless and knew where the homeless gathered, delivered 2,000 lunches every Saturday and Sunday.
Ley said, “Our first mission was people on the street. He (Wright) and I went out for months and learned the population and their needs. It was a mission of kindness.”
Ley said the center's homeless shelter was turned over to Vincent House 10 years ago when the Franciscan Center moved into the former Sacred Heart school building.Today, the Franciscan Center assists the needy in a variety of ways:
♦Saint Peter's Sack Lunch program feeds 1,127 weekly. Monday through Thursday, volunteers prepare lunches that are delivered Saturdays only on the southeast side of Fort Wayne.
♦Saint Anthony's Food Pantry currently serves more than 200 people weekly 9-11 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Christie said 180 people were served recently during the two hours the pantry is open.
♦Saint Joseph's Medicine Cabinet opened three or four years ago, offering hygiene and paper products and medicine. People arrive 10-11 a.m. Tuesday to pick out three items (only one soap item is included in the three items). The medicine cabinet serves about 125 people in one hour.
While the medicine cabinet is open, nursing students from the University of Saint Francis check blood pressures, and Kool Smiles distributes toothbrushes, toothpaste and information about dental care.
Christie said the medicine cabinet is a unique offering to those in need because it specifically supplies items not covered by food stamps.
♦Feed My Sheep Ministry allows community groups, businesses, neighborhood associations and churches to support the food pantry.
♦Saint Anthony Prayer Cell allows the community to pray for those in need 9-11 a.m. every Tuesday at St. Henry Catholic Church.
Christie emphasized the center is not affiliated with any religious denomination or organization. He said programs are named based on the qualities of a particular saint's life. The center relies solely on in-kind donations, grants, corporate sponsorships and monetary contributions.Christie said the center relies on community food drives to keep the pantry stocked with an assortment of canned goods, cereals and pasta. Otherwise, the center must purchase food from other sources, such as Community Harvest Food Bank.
Recently, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church donated 500 bags of food and medicine to the center, and Arlington Park Neighborhood Association will hold a food drive Aug. 14-15. Christie said he'd like to see every church hold a food drive at least once a year.
“We're here to serve,” he said, “but we're here to allow the opportunity for people and organizations to serve.”
Christie also said the community can become involved with the center by praying Tuesday mornings at St. Henry Catholic Church. Christie collects prayer requests from people who come into the center, documents them, then passes them out, in person, to anyone who will come to pray at the church.
“We're starting to realize it's our most important ministry,” he said. “We can ask for God's help in praying for these people.”
To learn moreWhat: Franciscan Center
Where: 4643 Gaywood Drive
Contact: 744-3977, 1-877-747-3977, www.thefranciscancenter.org
♦Saint Peter's Sack Lunch Program; call Sandra Pleus.
♦Saint Anthony's Food Pantry Program; call Barry Tracy.
♦Saint Joseph Medicine Cabinet; call Doris Bermes.
♦Feed My Sheep Ministry; call Angela Tippmann to hold a food drive.
♦Saint Anthony Prayer Cell; everyone is invited to pray for those in need.