Thursday, November 30, 2017

Helping Center Has New Director; Lufkin Moves Up

MaryLynn Lufkin, standing, has been promoted to director of the Catholic Charity Helping Centers in eastern Oklahoma. Becky Ritchie, seated, is the new director of The Helping Center in Sallisaw. To ask for help or to give help call the center at 918-775-6111.

Tis the Season for Giving, and two area angels will direct givers in the right direction when asked.

They are Becky Ritchie and MaryLynn Lufkin.

Ritchie, of Muldrow, took over as director of the Catholic Charities Helping Center in Sallisaw on Sept. 19.

She accepted the post from Lufkin, who was promoted to director of Catholic Charities Eastern Oklahoma Outreach, which includes all the Helping Centers in eastern Oklahoma. They are in Tulsa, McAlester, Poteau, Muskogee and Sallisaw.

Lufkin served as director of Sallisaw’s Helping Center for 20 years, since 1997. She is positive about the center’s purpose.

“This is for the poor,” she emphasized.

Lufkin says the Helping Center is a special place.

“This is God’s place,” she said. “I couldn’t give it over to anyone who didn’t have that in their heart.”

That particular person turned out to be Ritchie. Ritchie is retired from the Fort Smith School System. When she decided she wanted to be a volunteer, she donated her time to the Helping Center. The volunteer position was to be for 20 hours a week. It didn’t work out that way.

Lufkin laughed when she related how Ritchie got the director’s job. Lufkin said she was overwhelmed with duties one day last summer, and at one point had to take a homeless person’s dog to the veterinarian so a landlord would let him move in.

“The dog had to have its shots,” Lufkin laughed. “On top of everything else I had to do that day, I had to take that dog to get its shots!”

Ritchie was the one who stepped in to help. Lufkin said the idea came to her as she, Ritchie and the dog drove to the vet’s office. The Helping Center needed Ritchie as director.

“She has been a God-send,” Lufkin said. “You can’t teach spirituality. It has to be in your heart…to serve the needs of the poor.

“There’s a lot more to this besides administration,” Lufkin said about working with and helping the less fortunate. “It’s a sense of dignity. People ask me ‘Who’s your boss?’ I tell them, ‘Jesus!’”

Ritchie admits the job isn’t easy, but it has benefits.

“It’s a good job,” she said. “It’s very fulfilling. You feel good going home at the end of the day.

“It’s been quite a ride,” she said, “and it’s still a learning process.”

Ritchie believes it’s important to follow Jesus’ directive to “Feed the hungry and cloth the naked.”

As the center’s director she does case management, makes sure that those in need have food, clothing and housing, then she must record all the information about the assistance provided. In addition to being in charge of all the center’s operations, Ritchie must also oversee the volunteers.

In the middle of the interview she had to leave to help a woman, who had a small child, and who was a burn-out victim from Muldrow.

Lufkin’s duties as director of all Catholic Charities efforts in eastern Oklahoma is much the same, just magnified five or more times.

In addition to overseeing the five rural Helping Centers, Lufkin said they are trying to expand into rural areas, such as Talihina, Idabel, Clayton, Hugo and Antlers.

“We want to expand to monthly food drops,” she said about providing food for those depressed areas.

Lufkin, who also assists in disaster areas such as central Oklahoma which tornadoes have devastated on several occasions, is also providing disaster preparedness training for households in eastern Oklahoma. The training is “Plan. Prepare. Protect.” These three steps are designed to help the whole family survive a disaster. The three steps are:

Plan: Create an emergency plan and make sure everyone in the house knows it.

Prepare: Be prepared by having an emergency kit in the home and car.

Protect: Protect yourself by doing things like getting a flu shot and regularly checking flu kit supplies.

Right now both Lufkin and Ritchie are working on holiday preparations. During the interview they were preparing information on the 338 young angels who will be receiving Christmas gifts. They are also working on preparing 175 Christmas dinner baskets for those who cannot afford a turkey or a ham for dinner on Christmas day.

And as winter looms, Lufkin and Ritchie said the center always needs heaters, blankets and winter coats.

“We get five or six requests a day for blankets,” Lufkin said.

“And,” she added, “if every household just went to their closet and pulled out a coat they haven’t worn in one or two years, we’d probably have 500 coats.”

The Helping Center has one other small project that was prompted by an older man who had no money to buy his wife a Christmas gift. He stopped by the center several years ago to see what he could find. He found a new candleholder, with candle. Lufkin believes it was perhaps a gift to someone who had no need for it, and donated it to the center.

“He came up to me and said, ‘I just want to thank you. I had no gift.’ He convinced me it was worth the effort to gather donations of new items and put them on a gift table so the adults could choose just one gift,” Lufkin said.

The Helping Center will gladly take all new and unused gifts as donations for those who have none, and put them on the center’s gift table.

“Just look in the back of your closet where you threw that gift you knew you would never use,” Lufkin urged. That forgotten gift could make someone’s Christmas very happy.

Want to help or need help? All you have to do is call The Helping Center at 918-775-6111.

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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