Clothing ministry opens at St. John Vianney

Linda Gottbrath stood in front of rows of sorted clothing that are given away free of charge to those who need them. The Sitio Clothing Ministry is located in a former first-grade classroom at the old St. John Vianney School, 4839 Southside Drive. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)
Linda Gottbrath stood in front of rows of sorted clothing that are given away free of charge to those who need them. The Sitio Clothing Ministry is located in a former first-grade classroom at the old St. John Vianney School, 4839 Southside Drive. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

A new outreach ministry at St. John Vianney Church aims to provide clothing, shoes, coats and other necessities — all free of charge — to the poor and needy in South Louisville.

The ministry — called Sitio, which is Latin for “I thirst” — moved into its new home at St. John Vianney, located at 4839 Southside Drive, in January. Linda Gottbrath, who started Sitio, initially organized the clothing ministry in her basement.

Gottbrath is a parishioner of St. Rita Church and had been looking for a parish to host her growing ministry for several months, but a number of parishes in the Okolona area simply did not have the space to accommodate it, she said.

Her ministry found a home at St. John Vianney where, she said, the response and support have been tremendous.

Father Anthony Chinh Ngo, pastor of St. John Vianney, said Sitio was a natural fit with the other social service programs the parish offers, such as a food distribution program, assistance with job searches and a medical checkup program.

“The parishioners at St. John Vianney once were immigrants,” he noted. “They came from Vietnam many years ago.”

Father Chinh noted that he’s also a refugee from Vietnam and “sees the obvious challenges of those who just arrived in the U.S.A. They are poor, obviously. Many arrived here with nothing, except family members and
scars of war or famine in their own possession.”

Father Chinh said Gottbrath and her volunteers show “Christian charity” through their work with Sitio.

“I am so enthused knowing that I have additional hands to offer our love to the poor. The need in this part of town is enormous … our work is just a drop in the bucket,” he said.

Sitio is located in a former first-grade classroom in the old St. John Vianney School. Gottbrath said the space needed some minor construction. The roughly 25-foot x 45-foot area is lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves and several large island-style storage centers.

“I figured I could afford to pay for the labor but knew I couldn’t pay for the lumber,” she said.

Gottbrath said she prayed about it and approached Father Chinh, who told her to pick out the lumber and the parish would pay for it.

The parish doesn’t charge Gottbrath anything to use the space and, in turn, Gottbrath lends a hand where it’s needed, she said. Gottbrath is skilled at repairing liturgical statues and is currently working on a 4-foot-tall statue of St. Anthony for the parish.

“I do anything I can to help out,” she said.

The clothing ministry collects all varieties of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing. Items that are in high demand include jeans, coats, children’s clothing, tennis shoes and blankets. The ministry also recently partnered with the St.

Bernadette Diaper Bank to receive diaper donations for clients.

Gottbrath said she drew inspiration for the clothing ministry from the death of her son, Jamie, who took his life in 2002.

“I had all of that energy that I doted on him and no where to give it,” she explained in an interview last week at St. John Vianney. “I thought it would keep me focused.”

After her son’s death, she became involved in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. When she learned her parish’s St.
Vincent de Paul chapter would give out vouchers for clothing and other items, she said she thought they could get those items donated and save money.

So she began taking clothing donations from people and stored the items in her basement.

She hopes that helping someone who may be dealing with depression or feelings of inadequacy may deter that person from harming themselves or others.

“I’m tickled to death to be able to help someone,” she said. “That pleases me more than anything.”

The ministry aims to reach out to those who live in the 18 zip codes south of the Watterson Expressway.

“I’ve volunteered at the Golden Arrow Center and the Schuhmann Center and I learned a lot. This (ministry) is meant to complement those organizations, not to overpower or take clients away,” she noted.

She has reached out to the neighboring Americana Community Center, which serves individuals and families — including a number of refugees and immigrants — in Louisville’s South End, to spread the word about the ministry.

Gottbrath said the ministry’s mission is to “quench the thirst of Christ one client at a time.”

She referenced Matt. 25:40 which says: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

“We do it for him,” she said.

Sitio is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Donations may be dropped off during these times as well. Volunteers are still needed to help clients fill orders, pick up donations, sort through donations and perform light clerical work. To volunteer or to donate items, call Gottbrath at 969-0018.

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