“It really is a family thing,” says Ed O’Hanlon, son of Jim O’Hanlon Sr. “Blanchet House is just ingrained in us, it was always a part of our family. Dad and his friends dedicated themselves to running it.”
Many of the things we value in life are passed down by family members. For the families of Blanchet’s founders supporting the mission is deeply rooted.
“If it’s important to him then it’s important to me,” says Steve Feltz, son of Gene Feltz.
While serving people in need the nine founding members forged a bond that lasted their lives and beyond. Only two founders remain Jim O’Hanlon Sr. and Gene Feltz, both in their 90s. They led the organization alongside their friends for more than 40 years.
“Once we started Blanchet, we had to keep it going because the need was there,” says Gene. “It was our duty.”
Steve adds, “What dad means by duty is that we do this out of love for our fellow man.
“Once we started Blanchet, we had to keep it going because the need was there. It was our duty.” -Gene Feltz
“The guy who really pushed us to start was Fr. Francis Kennard,” recalls Jim. “He said, ‘Go out in the street! Help people. Just don’t sit on your heels!’”
In 1948, a group of young men wanted to start a social club to meet “gals and such” but instead they were challenged to give back and built a charity that has helped countless people.
“When we started we didn’t have much money. We could only serve breakfast.” Jim continues. “We paid $35 a month for rent. We wanted to buy the building so we could give people a place to sleep. We needed to raise money somehow.”
When people heard about what they were doing they wanted to support it. A local car dealer gifted them a 1955 Chrysler to auction. They sold tickets to the auction to raise money for the down payment. They had to take out personal loans for the mortgage. A big commitment for the young families.
“No one else was there to help people out. So that’s what we did. We had to keep it going because the need was there,” recalls Gene.
All along the way, they were blessed by acts of generosity that allowed them to help more people. A surprise bequest in a will gave them the ability to expand and further their mission to alleviate suffering.
‘Go out in the street! Help people. Just don’t sit on your heels!’ -Fr. Francis Kennard
It’s easy to marvel at what they have built—a living monument of compassion—a rare thing indeed. How do they feel about this accomplishment?
“The kids have done tremendously well. They brought in new blood to keep it going. It’s gotten better,” says Jim, humbly giving credit to others.
A new generation of leadership brought new skills. Ed and Steve both served on the board. Along with many others, they raised a new building to increase meal service and bed availability to those on the street.
The Mission is Simple
“You have to live it. Be involved and support things that help people,” says Ed. “The mission is to help people. Don’t preach, just help. Free meals without anything in return.”
On most any day at Blanchet House, you could meet a volunteer or donor who is a relative of one of the founders—a Carr, Christianson, Collins, Feltz, Harrington, Moore, O’Hanlon, or Petrusich. An extended family honoring a life long mission of service.
“We all support Blanchet House to honor our parents,” Steve adds.
While the founders no longer serve meals or attend meetings, they still support the organization financially.
They created deep, multi-generational traditions of selfless charity that layout a set of principles to guide succeeding generations. There are no buildings named after these men but there is a legacy.
Every day someone in desperate need of food comes to Blanchet House and leaves with renewed hope thanks to the generosity of people like you.
-by Julie Showers
Make Blanchet House Part of Your Legacy
With your help, Blanchet House can continue to serve the community into the future. Be part of a family that values the inherent dignity of everyone.