TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV)– Back in 1973, John E. Etling saw a gap in the Terre Haute community.

Etling wanted to help impoverished families in the area, and teamed up with Father Don Schmidlin to form Catholic Charities Terre Haute. 

50 years later, they are still going strong– and continuing to evolve and expand. 

Dozens of community members gathered at the Vigo County Historical Society Tuesday to celebrate that growth that reflected on the past five decades– while expressing optimism for what’s to come. 

Jennifer Tames, the assistant agency director for the organization, said it has continued to provide different services in the community over the years.

“The intent of Catholic Charities agencies is really to look at the needs of the community and to be able to help where there are gaps in those needs. We’re not the only non-profit in town and we don’t ever expect to be the only non-profit in town,  in fact we try to collaborate with all social service agencies,” she said. 

“When you look at the services Catholic Charities provides, they really have changed over the years, and it’s gotten to where we are today which is basic needs, food, clothing, shelter, quality youth programming.” 

The amount of people they have served continues to expand– reaching eye-popping numbers.

“It’s just fantastic what we do, nine million, nine million pounds of food per year distributed between seven counties throughout the Wabash Valley, it’s just phenomenal,” David Fuson, the president of the advisory council board, said. 

The ceremony on Tuesday included a dinner and a presentation that focused on the past 50 years. Several speakers addressed the audience, and the organization gave out gifts to members of the Etling family as a token of appreciation for its late founder, who passed away in 2015. 

Tames said none of this would be possible without him.

“John really had looked at the community from the eyes of a teacher, because that’s what he was. So had seen some of the poverty and issues in the community, and really felt there was more than an organization could do to reach out to those families and individuals and to provide a little bit of help and hope,” she said. 

She also made sure to mention that Catholic Charities thrives because of the community support they’ve received from thousands of people over the years.

“We couldn’t celebrate 50 years without a lot of people who have come before us. From John Etling and his wife Pat, and Father Don Schmidlin who were all there at the very beginning, to all of the staff and volunteers and community members who have walked alongside us throughout those five decades,” she said. “I would have to end with just saying thank you.” 

More information about upcoming events and available services can be found here.