News: Wiccan Ways

Pagan charity is a blessing to the poor

May 26, 2004 at 2:06 pm

Rows of handprints line the walls of the Robin's Hood Community Center in Covington. One wary visitor was certain the handprints were a spell, a means of capturing souls.

The handprints are merely a kind of "guest book," according to the Rev. Bonnie Campaniello, manager of the center. However, Campaniello does capture souls, lively and sincere in her concern for humanity.

Robin's Hood and the Faerie Realm, which share the storefront, are in their second year of operation, having begun as a part of Campaniello's ordination as a Wiccan minister. She was charged with a project for community service, and her vision was a simple one: "There'd be a comfy chair for everyone to sit in," she says.

She gestures to the ample space about her, a modest but comfortable atmosphere.

"It's all here," she says.

Help without hassle
This past winter Robin's Hood served as a 24-hour warming shelter when temperatures dropped below 20 degrees, welcoming as many as 150 homeless people. While some other centers closed their doors at 7 p.m. and ushered everyone out at 7 a.m., Robin's Hood became a refuge.

"I basically let people loiter in my store," Campaniello says.

That's her means of avoiding the "red tape" that characterizes many other charity organizations. Campaniello prides herself on the "comfort level" achieved at Robin's Hood.

"The homeless talk about us as far away as Lexington," she says. "Guys that are used to sleeping with one eye open will go sound asleep in a chair here."

Robin's Hood receives no government funding. Every item in the pantry and every piece of furniture have been donated by the community or were purchased with Campaniello's own funds. Other groups have been supportive, including the Pike Street Clinic, a medical center for the homeless; and Breaking Bread Charities, a Christian organization, for which Campaniello has served as Bingo announcer for years.

"It's about saying to your fellow human, 'I've got it. Do you need it?' " Campaniello says. "We're way too disposable of a society when there are people who have nothing."

In addition to providing a safe haven for the homeless, Robin's Hood also has programs to benefit underprivileged families and children. Last year its back-to-school drive provided 26 children with backpacks full of supplies and new school clothes. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, 125 families had holiday dinners courtesy of Robin's Hood.

Operation Child Smiles uses Christmas tree ornaments to detail underprivileged children's wish lists; donors pick ornaments and buy gifts for the kids.

Robin's Hood also helps with electric bills, rent and medical prescriptions.

Robin's Hood aims to fill gaps left by other shelters and programs, providing what Campaniello calls "non-food essentials" such as toilet paper, diapers, shaving materials and feminine products.

"We specialize in things you can't get with food stamps," she says.

Robin's Hood even has cabinets where homeless people can leave their belongings when they are out looking for jobs.

Compassion and goats
While Covington has come to embrace the center, Campaniello and others have encountered obstacles due to their religious practices.

"Because we're pagan, we already know we're a last resort," she says.

Negative sentiments about paganism leave her unconcerned.

"I thumb my nose at that every day," Campaniello says.

The leadership of Robin's Hood is an ecumenical lot; the religious practices of the board of directors ranges from Wicca to Voodoo to Christianity.

"Paganism, almost by standard, is all inclusive," Campaniello says. "There's only one race, and that's the human race."

The center has a library that includes the Bible, the Koran and the Book of Mormon, among others. Campaniello wants to foster an open environment, where everyone can feel comfortable with their own spiritual choices.

"It's not about the religion," she says. "It's about spirituality. I encourage them, because it's a spiritual connection, one that allows us to interact with fellow humans in a kinder, gentler way."

Housed also in the center is Campaniello's coven, whose name Campaniello relates with laughter: The Not Quite a Coven of the Fainting Goats and the Flying Sacred Birds. The coven is an open one, which is rare in pagan practice and is the reason for the "not quite." The coven has seen as many as 51 persons in attendance. The only dues are that each month something must be brought for the pantry at Robin's Hood.

Anyone is welcome to sit in at a coven meeting, so long as they are respectful of everyone else. Campaniello has performed three weddings as well as two wiccanings, a pagan form of baptism. The coven is a place of healing and power, according to Campaniello.

"What magic does is use the energy that exists around you anyway," she says. "If you believe positive things, positive things will happen."

Campaniello describes the coven and the center as a learning community.

"We teach and learn from each other," she says. "It's an extended family."

The Faerie Realm hosts the Witch's Ball every October at the Southgate House, with all proceeds going to Robin's Hood. The center hosts Faerie Fest on June 5 and participates in Cincinnati Metro Pagan Pride Day, in Goebel Park on Sept. 19.

Campaniello looks at the wall covered with handprints, a striking reminder of those who have gone through the center to help and to be helped.

"It's a visual reminder that you're never alone," she says. ©