Most Catholics, says Tom Cull, don’t differentiate between charity and justice.

“Charity is feeding the hungry,” asserts the St. Jude Church (Westlake Village) parishioner. “Justice asks why are people hungry, and tries to find solutions.”

Tom and his wife Jean Marie are all about finding solutions. They ask the tough question — “WHY?” — when faced with issues like homelessness, poverty and hunger. And they aren’t afraid to do the work that it takes to find answers. 

Their work in social justice outreach is one the Culls are among 42 Ventura County Catholics to be recognized on Feb. 9 at the Catholic Charities Partners in Service Awards Dinner. Honorees are nominated by their pastors for their outstanding service to the community and their respective parishes.

Long-time active associates of the Sisters of St. Louis, Tom and Jean Marie Cull are devoted to issues of justice and peace, and the ministry of bereavement.

Seven years ago, Tom developed a Justice and Peace study group which began delving into issues of local and national significance, including human trafficking, poverty, hunger, health care and the care of creation. Flowing from the study group, Just Action was launched two years ago to do the work of taking positive action and begin solving the problems.

A current Just Action project is working with homeless women in transition houses of Many Mansions in Thousand Oaks. “Our sister organization, Loaves and Fishes, provides goods,” Tom explains. “We provide services for them: career planning, education and assistance in finding employment. We are also looking at how the poor interact with banks and financial institutions, seeking ways to educate and deal with injustices.”

The impact of this work has had a major impact on Tom’s life. “This work,” he says, “has provided a mindset in me with a perspective on life that allows me to look situations the way Jesus would want me to look at them, through the lens of justice.”

As a hospice nurse, Jean Marie has spent countless hours listening and reaching out to those in need.  But after a personal tragedy 16 years ago, she found herself drawn into bereavement ministry to help others deal with grief and the raw pain of loss.

It was after a young girl died suddenly that Jean Marie found herself at the family’s home with a deacon. She just listened, but the deacon told her later that she brought a sense of calm to a chaotic situation. Those comments reinforced her desire to answer God’s call to minister this way.

“When you have been through it yourself, you know what is needed,” Jean Marie says. “Listening is what it is all about. This ministry has broadened and deepened my faith.”

The same is true of Joe Waggoner, a parishioner at St. Paschal Baylon in Thousand Oaks, who was married to a Catholic woman and raised his children in the church, although he was not Catholic himself. In 1991 he began the RCIA process and was baptized in 1992.

Retired from a 30-year career in law enforcement, Joe had a desire to give his time to help others. For eight years he worked at the food bank and conducted interviews with those seeking assistance.

“I am blessed in my life,” Joe says, “and I wanted to give something back.”

Designed to promote partnership between local parishes and Catholic Charities, the annual Partners in Service Awards Dinner raises needed funds to provide services for clients in Ventura County. Information: (805) 643-4694.