Dr. Elizabeth Lutas, 'The Saint of Sunnyside'
Dr. Elizabeth Lutas has been an advocate for the homeless, immigrants, poor, uninsured, and patients with AIDS/HIV for almost 35 years. Her friends and loved ones simply refer to her as “Saint Elizabeth.”
In 2017, Lutas was honored by Catholic Charities with the Ubi Caritas Award. She was the first women and non-CEO to receive the award.
"The homeless teach us a lot,” she says. “You can lose everything in the world, but you can't lose God. I have yet to meet a homeless person without faith."
Lutas' parents came from Eastern Europe. She has lived in Sunnyside since her parents saved enough money to buy the apartment she continues to call home when she was six years old.
“My parents showered me with love and affection, which greatly contributed to my love for the poor,” she said.
She knew by the time she was two years old that she would become a doctor to the less fortunate, and her parents supported her dream.
Lutas has worked in approximately 13 homeless shelters. In 2014, the Administration for Children's Services, Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, and the Department of Homeless Services named a homeless shelter for families in East New York after her.
She also worked for 23 years at St Vincent's Hospital and three years in Connecticut with undocumented homeless immigrants. She was also a first responder on 9/11, working around the clock at a FEMA staging hospital.
"I was told that all my patients in the homeless clinics came to ask about me,” she said. “The love and confidence they had in me, knowing that I would be there meant a lot. The most important thing the homeless need is love. And they have given me so much love."
A parishioner of St Teresa's in Woodside, Lutas ran a homeless program there for 12 years, and currently serves as a lector and teacher in the School of Religion.
Regina Shanley was inspired by Lutas to host annual sock drives that have provided thousands of pairs of socks for the homeless.
“Dr. Elizabeth told me that when she meets a homeless person she asks their name and tells them hers,” Shanley said. “Then she asks them to pray for her and tells them she will pray for them, and she gives them socks. It's something so simple and so important that hardly anyone would think of, except Saint Elizabeth.”