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Bethlehem Project still serves the county's homeless

| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 8:59 p.m.

A ministry started in 1998 at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg to serve the homeless — or those on the verge of losing their homes — is still needed 14 years later.

The Bethlehem Project helps people from all walks of life who need permanent housing, emergency lodging or some assistance to stay in their homes.

It is supported monthly by the social ministry collection at Masses in the Greensburg Diocese, along with income from private and business donations, grants, memorial gifts and fundraisers.

Last year, the Bethlehem Project disbursed $61,133 to help individuals and families get back on their feet.

In a partnership with Catholic Charities, the project works within 14 different ZIP codes in Westmoreland County.

“Our parishioners are so generous to this project with their funding,” said Sandra Kocian, project coordinator. “It brings tears to my eyes sometimes — with the economy so bad — and all we have to do is ask for help with the needy and our parishioners respond.”

A fundraiser for the Bethlehem Project will be held Thursday at Lapels, A Fine Mens Clothier during Light Up Night in Greensburg.

Raffle tickets will be sold for baskets that will be on display, with goodies such as Penguins tickets, parking passes, Vera Bradley items from Never Enough Boutique and a car detailing package from Hillview Motors.

Tickets cost $10. Winners will be announced after Mass on Dec. 16.

The intake process for the Bethlehem Project is done through Catholic Charities. Household income and each individual situation is considered.

“Sometimes it's not just one particular area of support that can help,” said Kocian. “Sometimes the need is so much more than just one (service). Catholic Charities is outstanding to get people into contact with an organization to help them.”

Lisa Cooper Dudney, board president for the Bethlehem Project, said some of the people who receive assistance are working several jobs just to make ends meet. Others are behind on rent or can't afford high heating bills.

Cooper Dudney said she has heard countless stories of how people became homeless through no fault of their own.

Carrie Lucotch, supervisor of the Homeless Assistance Program at the Westmoreland County Housing Authority, said that from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, the program helped 188 families with children and 199 adult families, or a total of 899 people.

“It's a very humbling experience when you realize how great the need is in the community you live,” said Cooper Dudney. “This can happen to anybody from all walks of life and backgrounds, because things happen in life that can change your financial situation and it turns into a crisis with a snowball effect.”

Kevin Miscik, owner of Lapels, A Fine Mens Clothier, has been involved since the early days of the project, hosting fundraisers to support the local charity.

He is donating a portion of every sale on Thursday to the project, along with a men's Christmas basket for the raffle. “I thought this is something we could really get behind to prevent” homelessness, he said.

For Cooper Dudney, prevention is the key.

“Sometimes people need help with circumstances beyond their control,” she said. “Sometimes it takes just a little bit for someone to get back on their feet and fortunately in Westmoreland County, there is a lot to choose from.”