Ladies of Charity working to get Knoxville operation to the next level

Elevator project will allow charitable organization to open spacious second floor to public for office, meeting space

By Bill Brewer

One of Tom Shannon’s goals for the Ladies of Charity thrift store, food pantry, and donation center in Knoxville has been the installation of an elevator.

In fact, the longtime volunteer has been working with Ladies of Charity Executive Director Susan Unbehaun in planning for an elevator as a way to provide better access to the Baxter Avenue building’s second floor. The only access now to offices and meeting space on the upper floor is by stairs, which is a major obstacle for those with disabilities and many older people.

Mr. Shannon was on hand Sept. 2 when Ladies of Charity supporters broke ground on the elevator project. He was selected as one of the individuals to don a hardhat, pick up a shovel, and dig up the dirt for the groundbreaking ceremony, but a temporary health condition forced him to use a walker and he had to sit out the breaking-of-ground ceremony.

The irony wasn’t lost on Mrs. Unbehaun, who pointed out that Mr. Shannon – a Ladies of Charity fixture with his wife, Pat, wouldn’t have been able to attend a meeting of the Ladies of Charity’s elevator committee if it ever met upstairs while he was using a walker.

But all that is about to change. Construction on the $163,000 elevator project began last month and will be completed next spring, in time for the 75th anniversary celebration of the Ladies of Charity in Knoxville.

Monsignor Xavier Mankel, longtime spiritual moderator of the Ladies of Charity, and Father John Dowling, pastor of Holy Ghost Church and the Ladies of Charity’s current spiritual moderator, were joined by Barney Baker, Mark Brodd, Karen Burry, Phyllis Denning, Chris Lucheon, John Mahoney, Lisa Morris, Pat Murphy, Kathi O’Hara, Geri Sutter, and Andy Shannon, who stood in for his father, Tom Shannon, in officially breaking ground for the project. Andy Shannon is a Knoxville architect who also worked on the project.

Mr. Brodd, a vice president for general contractor Blaine Construction Corp., said the project will take about six months to complete as the elevator shaft is built on the north side of the building and a two-stop elevator is installed.

Mrs. Unbehaun has been trying to get the elevator off the ground since shortly after being named executive director in March 2015. In fact, it was a point of discussion before she was hired.

“This project was in my interview process when they asked me what did I see missing from the building,” Mrs. Unbehaun said, noting that she immediately responded “access to the second floor.”

She said the lack of an elevator also is impeding the nonprofit organization’s mission. “The second part of our mission is spirituality and community. Our older members can’t participate in meetings held upstairs. Also, community groups interested in using the second-floor space are at a disadvantage,” she noted.

Mrs. Morris, who is co-president of the Ladies of Charity for 2016, thanked the women who have served in the Ladies of Charity through the years as the organization prepares for its 75th anniversary next year.

“We look at this building and we know that from where we started 75 years ago … and we look at what God has done during this time through the Ladies of Charity for the community, our hearts are very grateful to God and all of you for what has been accomplished through the Holy Spirit,” Mrs. Morris said.

She was joined by Mrs. Lucheon, who is Ladies of Charity co-president for 2016. Mrs. Lucheon said the event was ground-breaking in many ways.

She said opening the upstairs to more people will allow the Ladies of Charity to launch more programs to serve the community and God.

“We will be having, God willing, several new programs, and we are working on a new strategic plan. Please pray for our board and all the leadership involved in that process that we listen to and follow God’s will and are able to do what He’s calling us to do through this new opportunity to use our upstairs. We are extremely blessed and thankful to all of you and our past presidents,” Mrs. Lucheon said.

Father Dowling blessed the construction site, offering a prayer and sprinkling holy water on the building, which was purchased by the Ladies of Charity in 2009. Through generous gifts, the building was paid off in 2012. Prior to relocating to the Baxter Avenue building, the Ladies of Charity operated in the old Holy Ghost Church on North Central Street.

The organization’s mission is to provide service to the poor. The areas of special focus are emergency assistance and requests for food, clothing, housing, and medical needs. Since its beginnings in wartime 1942 and for more than 70 years, the Ladies of Charity has continually addressed the emergency needs of the underserved, unemployed and underemployed, regardless of socioeconomic or religious background.

Each year, the organization provides tens of thousands of free services, with nearly half of its clients being children. The Ladies of Charity is served by nearly 200 volunteers.

“To all the members and volunteers who have embraced our mission and given so much for so many years, thank you. May we always be the helping hands of Jesus to those in need,” Mrs. O’Hara said. “The Ladies of Charity has come a long way since a very humble beginning in 1942, but our mission to assist those in need remains unchanged. What has changed is our location, and that move has enabled us to expand beyond belief. Today, we begin the project of taking our expansion upward with the addition of an elevator.”

Mr. Shannon said having to use a walker has given him new perspective on how important it is to have improved access to the second floor.

“There are all kinds of things that we can do on that floor. We are really excited about it,” he said. ■

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