Priest raises $900,000 for parish meal center with clever T-shirts

A year-round parish-based meal center for the poor and hungry of Lawrence is a go after Fr. Paul O’Brien managed to coordinate a major funding campaign that raised $900,000.

At a news conference yesterday, Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston pledged to pick up the remaining costs, estimated at $500,000, from the sale of closing parishes, reported the Boston Globe.

The pastor of St. Patrick Church, one of the poorest parishes in the region, got a little help from his friends for the campaign — former Harvard University housemate, comedian Conan O’Brien, and Cincinnati Reds first baseman Sean Casey.

Funds to the tune of $450,000 came from the sale of edgy T-shirts. They are sold through a Web site, The T-shirts carry pejorative labels on the front, like addict or homeless, and on the back simply have the Web site address. They come in mason jars that can be used to collect donations. The T-shirts are also sold at Newbury Comics, and by area students.

The other half was raised from foundations and major donors.

The 5,600-square-foot Cor Unum meal center will be built on the parish parking lot and serve up to 750 hot meals a day. The construction is expected to cost about $1.4 million and be completed by spring.

The annual operating budge is estimated at $200,000, and the parish is now raising money for that.

The idea for the meal center came from the parish, which has been feeding hundreds of people through a food pantry for years.

Fr. O'Brien told the Globe that one in five families in Lawrence lives in poverty and that 3 in 4 children are at risk of hunger. The city, once dominated by textile mills, has long had a large immigrant population. In recent years, immigrants come from the Dominican Republic, Vietnam and Cambodia.

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