Anne Marie Jones is bracing herself to tell a story of drug addiction, prostitution, and recovery to a city preparing for a pope.
The 48-year-old mother of three clawed her way out of a life on the streets with the help of Dawn's Place, a residential treatment program for women involved in human trafficking.
"Here, I found immediate peace and safety," said Jones, sitting at a table at the program's headquarters, where she is now a peer mentor.
Jones is scheduled to share her story on Monday at a news conference to announce the formation of a charitable fund aimed at ensuring that the visit of Pope Francis, scheduled for Sept. 26 to 27, has tangible effects for the area's neediest residents.
The Francis Fund is a short-term initiative of the Hunger and Homelessness Committee of the World Meeting of Families that organizers hope will raise $1.5 million for charitable groups such as Dawn's Place.
"Pope Francis says it's not enough to be emotionally moved by those who are struggling," said Sister Mary Scullion, chairman of the committee, in an interview last week. "We have to be moved to act in some concrete way."
Scullion, executive director of the anti-homelessness group Project HOME, is scheduled to join Jones, committee members, and representatives of area charities at the news conference outside the Free Library of Philadelphia at 1901 Vine St.
That location was chosen not only because it is a gathering place for the homeless, but because of its proximity to Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the site of a Sunday Mass that Pope Francis is scheduled to celebrate on Sept. 27.
The fund's grants will be distributed to 54 charitable groups a week later on Oct. 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Most awards will be between $5,000 and $15,000, with some exceptions for larger projects.
The fund is part of a three-pronged mission of the Hunger and Homelessness Committee, which includes a devotional art project called the Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto; and a campaign to lobby U.S. Congress to address issues including poverty and criminal justice reform.
Organizers already have raised $600,000 from benefactors who donated during the initiative's organizing phase, but fund-raising officially starts Monday with the launch of the fund's website at www.mercyandjustice.org.
Committee members sought to assemble an interdenominational group of charities that serve people who are hungry, homeless, or have been involved in human trafficking, Scullion said.
Beneficiaries includeJoseph's House of Camden, a homeless shelter; the Beth Sholom Mitzvah Kitchen, a food pantry; and Masjidullah Inc., which also offers a food program for the needy.So far, benefactorsinclude Wells Fargo, the Connelly Foundation, and Wawa.
"The important thing is that regular, ordinary people can go online and contribute whatever they can, because it really is about the power of community," said Scullion, whose organization is not eligible for donations from the fund.
Groups were selected by committee members who are longtime activists in charitable causes. The committee reached out to organizations based in the poorest areas of the region and asked them to identify a need and a funding request that would help them fill it, Scullion said.
Joseph's House has requested $100,000 to help fund the addition of a health clinic to its facility.
"We're really tight on space," said Tip O'Neill, chairman of the charity's board. "We have only one room for medical professionals to talk with guests who [otherwise] don't have access to health care."
Dawn's House is hoping for $100,000 to help purchase a house that would add residential and office space for its counseling, educational, life-skills, and job-readiness services, said Sister Michelle Loisel, the program's executive director.
Fund organizers are hoping that donations will total more than the goal of $1.5 million so that additional charitable organizations can benefit from the initiative.
"Wouldn't that be wonderful," Scullion said. "We would love to be able to do a second round. That would be the best news of all."