About Our Lady of Guadalupe Center
Catholic Social Services (CSS) is an anti-poverty agency whose goal is to empower people of all faiths and backgrounds with the tools they need to reach their full potential. CSS’ diverse services help 33,000 people in a 23-county region of central and southern Ohio each year—most of who are low-income seniors and the working poor.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Center (OLGC) is a program of CSS, which evolved from an immigrant woman’s desire to give back to the Hispanic community in Columbus. When Catalina Santos moved to Columbus, she saw the immigrant Hispanic community needed food. As she had once been homeless and relied on food pantries to feed her family, she felt called to help others in need, distributing food in the community from her personal vehicle.
Inspired by Catalina’s work, CSS opened the OLGC food pantry in 1999. Continuing the family tradition of service to the community, Alma Santos, Catalina’s daughter, serves as the OLGC Coordinator. For almost two decades, OLGC has been meeting the unique needs of the immigrant Hispanic population in Columbus by providing food and emergency assistance. At OLGC, 92 percent of clients are Hispanic and 96 percent have incomes below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. CSS is the only agency in Franklin County offering a food pantry and supportive services aimed specifically at this population. Additional services at OLGC include English as a Second Language classes, nutrition classes, preventative health screenings, legal consultations and referrals and comprehensive case management. These services are designed to target the root causes of poverty and empower clients to create better lives for themselves and their families.
By 2015, after years of steady growth, OLGC had outgrown its space. The food pantry was providing over 87,000 meals each year; of the client families served, 38 percent had an annual income of $5,000 or less. CSS recognized the need for additional services that would empower families with the tools to become self-reliant, but OLGC lacked space and capacity.
In response, CSS launched a capital campaign to expand OLGC and offer additional services to help more families strengthen and stabilize. The Osteopathic Heritage Foundation partnered with The Columbus Foundation, jointly providing $175,000 for OLGC to relocate to a larger space. Rachel Lustig, CSS President & CEO, reflected on the impact of the funding award, “The Center was the size of a three car garage and not only were we providing people with nutritious food, we were also offering English classes and legal consultations. Our physical space was so small; we had to turn both people and partners away. The Foundations invested in our capacity to move to a site three times the size, and consequently, made it possible for more people to access needed services and additional partners to be engaged and supportive of this community.”
Today, OLGC has grown from a small food pantry born of the personal commitment of one dedicated volunteer to a community center offering a host of supportive services for thousands of people each year. Now operating from a 3,500-square-foot facility, OLGC is able to provide a greater variety of fresh foods in the pantry. In addition, OLGC now offers expanded learning opportunities, including job skills training and mentoring, and children have a safe place for supervised play while their parents participate in programming. Case management services and support groups are now possible because the larger center has enough space for individual consultations and community programs to operate simultaneously. In the first year following its expansion, OLGC supported more than 3,100 unduplicated clients and provided over 105,000 meals.