HOULTON — After over a year of watching a place designed to build relationships and community stand empty, Lynette Dobbs is one of many to be overjoyed at the sight of the Cross Resource Café offering welcome and assistance once again.

“It’s just so nice to see people reconnecting.”

Dobbs is the manager of the café which, due to the pandemic, has been closed since the spring of 2020. Located in the basement of St. Mary of the Visitation Church in Houlton, the café provides a place for patrons picking up groceries, or anyone else who wants to stop in, to enjoy a cup of coffee, engage in a little conversation, and learn about services available in southern Aroostook County.

“It puts a lot of resources in one place, whether we’re looking at medical, educational, legal, housing, ACAP (Aroostook County Action Program), or other resources,” said Dobbs.

The café is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and is conveniently located on the same floor of Mildred’s Food Pantry.

“Our café volunteers are welcoming faces for patrons, who are now walking in to get food rather than waiting in their cars, which was the process used during the peak of the pandemic,” said Dobbs. “We have heard so many positive comments from people who are happy to be able to come in, browse through the information items, and just talk with folks over a cup of coffee and a snack. Whether people need to visit the food pantry or just want to stop in and visit with others, it’s been great to see everyone.”

“Many new people started to come in for support and food during the pandemic because they need it,” said Kaylene Shupe, coordinator of the pantry.

“Most people, if they’re coming to get groceries, they fit the criteria to have some additional services, and I think a lot of people are not aware of that,” said Dolores, a volunteer.

Though Mildred’s has been helping area residents for three decades, the café opened in October of 2018, thanks in part to a grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).

The unfortunate increase of people in need at the pantry has offered the café an opportunity to connect those same individuals and families with even more specific help, including assistance obtaining health services, home heating, financial guidance, and even career opportunities. Volunteers are happy to help any looking for a better path forward.

“When people are coming in, they can see that they have this going on and that there are more resources out there, with all the pamphlets they have,” said Karen. “I love coming here, and I appreciate what they give, and I appreciate the café for giving coffee and snacks.”

“Everyone is treated with respect and made to feel more comfortable. Sometimes, people will just browse and other times, they’ll engage one of us and we can help them find what they are looking for,” said Dobbs. “I think people are sometimes hesitant to try to find where they can get help. It can be scary for someone to walk into DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) or some of the other places. Here is a safe place. They are grateful.”

Despite the unexpected closure over the last year, the guiding principle of the café remains the same: placing service above self.

“It’s mostly building those relationships, getting to know people, filling that need that Pope Francis talks to us about. He told us to encounter people, meet their gaze, and embrace them. Anyone can come in. Whether you’re living in the crisis of poverty or have a million dollars, if you’re looking for help, if you’re looking to access services, we’ll help you,” said Dobbs. “We try to connect people to what is out there. Please come check it out!”

For more information about the pantry or café, including ways you can offer or receive assistance, contact St. Mary of the Visitation Parish at 207-532-2871.