By Gary Morton, Staff reporter
NEWARK — After three people over the course of time told Les Gibbs, “God has a plan for you,” he began to wonder what that plan was.
Eventually, his doctor provided a plan of his own to help Gibbs, 64, overcome depression after a kidney transplant in 2009: “You need to get out and do something,” he told Gibbs.
Gibbs’s wife, Kathy, a lector and member of the adult faith formation team at Holy Family Church, suggested the parish’s outreach ministry. Gibbs started to volunteer, became hooked on helping others and came to realize God’s plan.
“I finally figured it out. It’s the work I do with Outreach and the other work I do,” such as with the Empowerment Center of Newark’s Friendship House, a nonprofit Christian group that helps the homeless.
Thanks largely to his willingness to reach out to others, Gibbs, a lifelong Methodist, is preparing to join the Catholic Church this Easter season at Holy Family. He believes he would have eventually joined his wife in the church, but his ministry speeded the process. “I became more and more involved in the church.
He doesn’t view becoming Catholic as choosing one denomination over another, but more “where I fit in now.” When he becomes Catholic, he said, he will become “whole, able to fully participate in the Mass.”
Angela Kauffman, the outreach director who has been on the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults team, understands Gibbs’ view toward full participation in the church. “He’s living out the Gospel message as part of his journey,” she said. “The only thing missing at this point is being able to be nourished by the Eucharist.”
Grew up sharing
Gibbs views his work as a continuation of lessons learned while growing up in Chester, Pa. “We grew up poor, but we always looked out for others. Everybody on the street helped each other. If we made a pot of soup it would feed three or four families because you always made enough for your neighbors, and they did the same.”
After graduating from Chester High School he worked at a department store, where he became assistant manager for part-time employees, while earning a degree in architectural design and building construction technology from Temple University in 1969. He and Kathy, whom he met through York where she also worked, married in 1969, raised three children and have two grandchildren. One child, Adam, “is in heaven,” Gibbs said. “We lost him in 1995 to leukemia, but he’s still with us.”
After a stint in the Air Force, Gibbs worked for DuPont as an architectural designer for 28 years before retiring.
Over the years he experienced a number of health issues, including a heart attack and stroke. His doctor’s guidance after the kidney transplant inspired Gibbs to action.
Gibbs began bagging groceries and registering people for the Outreach food pantry. He quickly befriended many clients, including some who were homeless, and soon expanded his efforts. Besides his work with the Empowerment Center, an ecumenical effort among Newark churches, he helps organize Code Purple nights in which Holy Family, on a rotating basis, provides shelter for the homeless on nights when temperatures dip to life-threatening levels.
The key to his relationship with clients, he said, is that “I treat them as if I’ve known them all my life. It makes them feel comfortable.”
He likens his outreach role to being “the tip of the umbrella. As each of the ribs go out I support them: food, social services, talking to folks about finding work, talking to folks about their problems.”
He considers his efforts spiritually based. “I do feel sometimes I am like a disciple.”
Kauffman also considers Gibbs a disciple. “What he does, how he treats people, he’s just like Jesus. He puts the needs of others first,” she said. “If all our volunteers were like that, we’d probably convert the city of Newark.”