By Diane Holloway
Between the two of them, the Scarianos are chaplain, librarian, healthy food suppliers and all-around loving supporters of our downtown neighbors experiencing homelessness. They are bright lights in service to Trinity Center, shining examples of the blessings we cherish. And so we will honor them with the distinguished Pat Hazel Award at the Barbara Jordan Celebration, our annual fundraiser coming April 21st.
The Scarianos are active members of St. David’s Church and owners of Royal Blue Grocery, a chain of six small food stores that dot downtown Austin, carrying basics as well as upscale, healthy food. Their association with Trinity Center began one summer when Jennifer brought sons Evan and Zachary, teenagers now but 9 and 11 then, to prepare and serve breakfast for the neighbors.
“We wanted to show the boys what real service looks like,” Jennifer said. That was before she enrolled at the Seminary of the Southwest with the idea of becoming a chaplain — and before she was quickly recruited and welcomed as our women’s chaplain on Tuesdays.
The trickle-down effect of service to Trinity Center came quickly. Jennifer’s mother, Molly Bennett, joined the Monday volunteer team on our women-only “shopping” day, and Jennifer’s husband George brought Royal Blue into the mix soon after. (Jennifer’s father, Bill Bennett, is an assisting priest at St. David’s, and both of the Scariano sons are acolytes.)
“We started contemplating how we, as a downtown retailer, can best serve this community,” George said. “Our relationship with the homeless is pretty complicated, but we wanted to serve the people who are our neighbors. There is a crisis of homelessness, and we feel like it’s a privilege to provide healthy food.”
Three days a week, Royal Blue sends ready-to-serve salads, sandwiches and myriad other good-for-you items, which we serve at 10:30 a.m. for our mid-morning “snack.”
“It’s about providing more than just proper food,” George said. “It’s good, healthy food that’s not always an option for people who are homeless. As a downtown retailer, it’s a daily experience with the complexity of homelessness, so it’s really nice to be able to steer people to Trinity Center for good food and services.”
On Tuesday mornings, Jennifer arrives with boxes of books (more about that later), announces her presence to our lady neighbors and, when someone requests time, settles into our little chapel in the center. Some mornings there is laughter, sometimes tears; there are prayers, conversations and often just listening.
“Just sitting there, listening and sometimes holding hands is mostly what I do,” she says. “There have been some grim and some lovely surprises. The grim is the volume of childhood and adult sexual trauma. That seems to be one of the root causes of women’s homelessness and addiction. The lovely part is when we’re talking, and their concerns are the same as when my girlfriends and I are talking. We’re all worried about our kids and our relationships. It’s powerful to hear their struggles and realize how remarkably similar we are.”
The desire and ability to see individual people rather than a homogenous population is obvious in both Jennifer and George, especially when it comes to homeless women.
“The mission of Trinity Center that specifically addresses female homelessness resonated throughout our staff,” George said. “All six of our Austin stores are managed by women. Sending food to Trinity Center is a collaborative effort, an endeavor of human kindness in serving others who are less fortunate. We’ve established a lot of relationships downtown, not all of them easy. But we try to treat everyone as an individual.”
Now back to Jennifer’s status as our librarian, a labor of love that also requires considerable strength as she brings box after box of books, selections she says are chosen with care and donated by the good folks at Half-Price Books.
“I love reading and giving people books,” she says. “I saw these little libraries all over town, bought one, painted it and decorated it, but I didn’t know where it would go. Then I realized it was supposed to be at Trinity Center! Being homeless must be so boring at times — waiting for food and other services. Reading can be transporting, so I thought books might be helpful.”
Of course, Jennifer was right. The little library rarely stays full all week; neighbors indeed love reading and look forward to the new arrivals.
For all these reasons and more, we honor Jennifer and George with the 2020 Pat Hazel Award. We invite all of you to come toast them and support Trinity Center’s mission of compassionate care at our Barbara Jordan Celebration.