It might be a bit surprising seeing a Benedictine Sister working maintenance for an apartment complex, but Sister Florence Lynch feels most comfortable when she is fixing and repairing things. Sister Florence works in the maintenance department at Chateau Perry Apartment Complex in Ross.
“I do electrical, mechanical, plumbing work and even wash the floors. You name it, I do it,” she said. Her skills also come in handy in her work with Angels in Overalls, the nonprofit she cofounded with Dorothy Lowick four decades ago.
Born in Ireland, Sister Florence moved to Texas in 1972 to join the Order of Our Lady of Charity. “I wanted to be a missionary and they had a mission in Africa, but my mother said Texas was far enough,” she laughed.
Sister Florence came to Pittsburgh in 1980 to use her skills to help remodel a convent on the South Side. Steel mills were closing at the time, and families needed assistance, so she began collecting food with the aid of volunteers. Those efforts soon expanded.
“I would visit their homes, and some of these people didn’t even have beds. We were poor in Ireland, but we weren’t that poor,” Sister Florence said.
She began searching for furniture, and it turned out to be perfect timing. A community motherhouse was being remodeled and had 325 beds in excellent shape that the Sister was able to collect and distribute.
“We used a pickup truck to collect the beds. At times it looked like that old TV show,” she joked, referring to The Beverly Hillbillies sitcom. By 1989, the group’s efforts had grown so much that they began renting storage space.
In 1994, Sister Florence transferred to the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh and made final monastic profession in 1997. During that time, Angels in Overalls became an official nonprofit organization.
Sister Florence now oversees a team of volunteers; there is no paid staff. Her team of “angels” collects good furniture from throughout the Greater Pittsburgh area to be distributed to those in need.
“If it doesn’t pass me, we don’t take it. I do not take any junk,” she said of the quality of furniture they distribute. And this is where her skills come in handy—the Sister can repair worthy items as well as assist with home repairs.
Over the years, Sister Florence has not only worked on properties owned by the Pittsburgh Diocese, but she also taught at Connelly Trade School for more than 20 years. “I’m just a mechanically minded person, and I love working with my hands,” she explained.
Because Sister Florence works in the mornings as do most of her volunteers, Angels in Overalls does most of their deliveries in the afternoon and on weekends.
“Two or three times a week, I’m on the road picking things up and putting them together,” she said.
Angels in Overalls collects living room, bedroom and dining room furniture, kitchen supplies including dishes, pots, pans, and utensils, lamps, towels, sheets, blankets and sometimes clothing. Items must be in good condition and size is a factor.
“It is difficult to move really large couches so we only take ones that are 70 inches or less. We ‘love’ love seats,” Sister Florence said, adding that she and her team use two 12 ft. trailers to collect and deliver goods, often working with other organizations.
“We work with many other agencies to help others. We can serve so many more that way,” she said. The group distributes goods to homeless individuals moving into apartments, refugees and immigrants, and those who may have lost their homes in fires or other disasters.
According to Matt Hess, program manager for AJAPO Refugee Services, Angels in Overalls has been an integral piece of the nonprofit’s Resettlement Program.
“Not only does the organization provide essential furniture donations to our newest neighbors, but Sister Florence and the volunteers personally collect and store donations for our clients,” he explained. “When AJAPO is notified of an arrival, sometimes only a few days in advance, the agency delivers the items to the family's door.
“Angels in Overalls has always been a reliable and trusted partner to be there when we needed them,” he added.
Like many small nonprofits, Angels in Overalls can always use more volunteers and monetary donations. They are always on the lookout for good furniture and items for their work, as they serve approximately 400 to 425 people per year. If you want to donate time, money or furniture, contact Sister Florence at 412-552-8837 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.