A nun's take on the economic recovery


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    Sister Albertina Morales runs Regis House Community Center, a Catholic charity committed to helping families in need. Colorful tile squares created by the kids who come to Regis House decorate the entrance of the community center.

    - Jolie Puidokas/Marketplace

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    Joel Rosales helps children with their homework after school at Regis House. The community center focuses on the children of families in need, providing homework assistance, food and a safe environment in what can be a tough neighborhood.

    - Jolie Puidokas/Marketplace

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    Sister Albertina Morales passes out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to kids at Regis House near downtown LA. Morales says that despite a recovery in some parts of the country, the people she serves are barely getting by.

    - Jolie Puidokas/Marketplace

Jeremy Hobson: The uncertainty in the markets is not what concerns our next guest -- she's got enough to deal with. Sister Albertina Morales is a nun with the Sisters of Social Service order here in Los Angeles.

She helps run a community center called Regis House, which moved 5 years ago from West L.A. to a more troubled neighborhood
near downtown L.A. As part of our coverage of Wealth and Poverty, I stopped by Regis House for a visit.

Albertina Morales: Before, it was a check-cashing, money wiring place. And people still walk by, looking for it. 'What happened to King's Express, and do you cash checks?' No, we don't. We don't wire money, we don't cash checks. They haven't been here, honestly, for five years.

Hobson: Who are the people that you serve and what is your mission?

Morales: Our mission is to serve the marginalized, the disadvantaged and families who are just living with each other -- one, two, three families together -- to be able to afford to survive. Most of our families are in survival mode.

Morales: Kenneth, do you want to get in line please?

Hobson: Many of those families have children who spend a lot of time here.

Morales: Hi Leslie, we're having peanut butter and jelly. Would you like some today?

Leslie: Yes please.

Sister Morales says that when it comes to kids, Regis House is stepping in where the government has had to step out.

Morales: We see what the cuts in the school system are doing: they are overcrowded, kids are not getting attention that they need. They've taken some of the basic things out of the school -- arts and crafts. Some kids don't even know how to use scissors. So homework assistance is a big deal. Snack is a big deal to these children.

Hobson: Just giving them something to eat?

Morales: Just giving them something to eat. And sometimes they lick their plates clean and it's a little bit sad for us. But that's their story.

Hobson: In a sense, you have a very unique snapshot of the economy right now, because you're dealing with people on a daily basis who are, as you say, immigrants; they are maybe not so well off; they have children. And they're coming in here, asking for help with all of those things. What are you seeing right now? Are things getting better or are they getting worse or are they staying the same?

Morales: Pretty much the same. It's still a lot of unemployment. You know, someone will walk in and say, 'We just lost our jobs. We need food. We need clothing.' We have not seen anything change.

Hobson: Given the experience that you've had working with these people, what would the message be that you would have for people around the country?

Morales: People are hungry, people are barely surviving. It's important to know that we are all connected, that when one of us is not taken care of, that that is a ripple effect that -- it's our obligation to help others and take care of other people.

Hobson: Sister Albertina Morales, here at the Regis House. Thank you so much for talking with us, and more importantly, for everything you do.

Morales: Thank you for having me.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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