St. Francis House was a vision of Doris and Stan Michalek established in the early 1970’s. Doris and Stan were members of the “Secular Franciscans”, a community of people who live the Rule of St. Francis for lay people.
Doris had heard and read about the works of the Secular Franciscans in Anchorage, Alaska. In the 1960’s, this Fraternity of St. Francis saw the need to help their fellow Alaskans through the hardships caused by the 1964 earthquake. They knew clothing, household items and food would be needed by the people devastated by the earthquake. They also knew of the financial hardships affecting these people. It was with hope, vision, efforts and unending faith by these faith-filled Alaskan Secular Franciscans that the inception of the first St. Francis House in the Far West became a reality.
This concept and idea deeply affected and touched the heart of Doris. She told Stan, “we may not have earthquake victims but we certainly do have the poor in Tacoma which need to be served”. This paved the way for a mission for Doris. She was, with Stan’s full support, wanted to establish a St. Francis House to serve Tacoma’s poor. Stan, with his keen business mind, knew Tacoma’s St. Francis House would need to be staffed and supported by volunteers, a system established to monitor those who would be served, and free-of-charge services developed.
Doris joyfully shared her vision to establish a St. Francis House in Tacoma with her Tacoma Franciscan Fraternity. The idea was well-received and supported. Unfortunately, the Fraternity knew it lacked the needed funds to launch such a program. This only gave Doris an enhanced commitment and greater determination to “seek and find” so a St. Francis House in Tacoma could and would become a reality.
Doris knew the location needed to be in a poorer area of Tacoma. She thought of St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church on Portland Avenue (the east side of the city). Full of enthusiasm, she contacted its parish priest, Fr. Henry, OSB. She shared with him her St. Francis House vision and asked if he knew of any vacant building within his parish boundaries.
He told her of long-time parishioners, the Lewandowskis, who currently had a vacant storefront in their apartment building facing Portland Avenue. Doris called and met with them. She explained her vision and how it would work. They immediately embraced her idea. In fact, they offered their storefront, shelving and clothing racks…..FREE!! Doris brought all her new-found information and details to the Fraternity. She lovingly received their blessings, their personal commitments to assist/serve in whatever ways they could and the needed seed money to make it a go!! Yes, the birth of a Tacoma St. Francis House was no longer a dream but actually becoming a REALITY!!!! With hearts filled with joy, the Tacoma St. Francis House opened its doors on the first Monday of November, 1970!!!
In 1974, the Pierce County Action Agency contacted Stan and Doris and shared with them an immediate need for a St. Francis House-type facility for the Puyallup Valley people. This gave Doris a new mission to again help the poor. On an evening walk with her husband Stan, Doris noticed a vacant home on the corner of 5th Avenue and 4th St. SW in Puyallup. Upon investigation, they found it was owned by All Saints Parish. Immediately Doris was at All Saint’s doorstep talking with the parish priest, Fr. Rafferty, about establishing her Valley St. Francis House in this building. Fr. Rafferty gave her his blessings to use this building FREE of charge. However, he made it very clear that she would have to find her own funds to make it a reality. He offered her one Sunday to solicit financial help from the All Saint’s Parish. Lovingly, she spoke at all of the Masses on her given Sunday and explained her plight. The All Saints Parish family generously responded with donations of clothing, blankets, household items and monies. Yes, Doris had done it again!!! Her valley St. Francis House was being born!
Shortly after launching the Puyallup St Francis House, Doris and Stan knew they could not maintain both facilities. The Tacoma branch was returned to the Fraternity while Doris and Stan operated the Puyallup location. The Fraternity faithfully served Tacoma’s poor first at its Portland Avenue address and continued when it moved to the storefront on McKinley Avenue. Unfortunately , as the Fraternity’s membership aged, it became more and more difficult to keep its doors open. Tacoma St. Francis House closed its doors on May 31, 1994 amidst sadness and also with great joy for all it had accomplished.
The Puyallup Valley St Francis House has continued to thrive, fulfilling the vision of Doris and providing service to thousands.
History Timeline – Journeying Toward a Dream
1974 St Francis House Comes to Puyallup
Doris and Stan Michalek open a small clothing bank under the auspices of All Saints Parish
1992 A Board Is Born!
St Francis House achieves 501(c)3 status as a nonprofit organization with a board of directors.
1994 A Downtown Acre
An acre of property in downtown Puyallup is purchased to allow for future growth.
1995 Hot Meals For All
The needs of clothing bank clients inspire the development of an evening meal program.
2000 A Clothing Bank Building Is Built
In response to the needs of a growing clientele, a larger clothing bank is built.
2001 ¿Habla Inglés?
As a means of supporting clients in their efforts to improve their lives, English classes for Hispanic adults are initiated.
2009 Celebrating 35 Years
From its humble beginnings, St Francis House had grown to be an organization whose small staff and 150+ terrific volunteers serve a total of 2,100 registered clothing bank families, 55+ hungry diners, and 45+ English students.
2011 A Storage/Office Wing Is Opened
Inspired by client needs for conveniently located services that would strengthen their ability to improve their lives, a new wing is attached to the clothing bank.
2012 Opening of The Nook
After three years of conducting annual Books and Treasures sales, it seemed that enough “high-end” items were on hand to open a boutique where they could be sold for reasonable prices. Proceeds from these sales would provide an additional revenue stream for the clothing bank.