BATTLE GROUND – In their mission to help the poor, some St. Vincent de Paul conferences around the archdiocese depend on a big fundraiser, the annual Friends of the Poor Walk in late September.
“It’s vitally important to support our mission and raise awareness for need in our community,” said Rex Holverson, president of the conference at Sacred Heart Parish in Battle Ground.
The walk typically raises $14,000 — half the yearly budget for the conference, which provided emergency assistance to 130 families in north Clark County last year and at Christmas distributed 85 food boxes and gifts for 135 children.
This year, the Sacred Heart Conference is hosting its sixth walk, with support from Sacred Heart Parish and its mission, St. Joseph the Worker in Yacolt.
Other conferences, like the 2-year-old conference at St. Philip Parish in Woodland, are organizing walks for the first time. The St. Philip Conferences goal is raising $10,000, as well as creating community among parishioners from St. Philip and its mission churches, St. Mary of Guadalupe in Ridgefield and St. Joseph in Kalama, said conference president Brian King.
“It’s a good time [for] getting to know the people in the parish and in other parishes,” said King, a parishioner at St. Philip.
Each conference sets its own course and distance for the walk, whose theme is “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” Many of the walks attract people of all ages and are pet-friendly. Some do more than walk. In Battle Ground, for instance, the event starts with a Zumba warm-up.
Wherever the walk, there’s always a lot of energy, according to Garri Linardos, parish secretary and parishioner at Sacred Heart, who has volunteered at past walks. “It’s always been very uplifting.”
The walk doesn’t just raise money and awareness of poverty, but also educates people about the services provided by the conferences.
“The real purpose is to get our name out there and let people know what we do,” King said. “All the work we do is for the people of the community.”
Pat Fischer, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Battle Ground, answers questions at the registration table during the 2016 Friends of the Poor Walk in her community. Photo: Courtesy Rex Holverson
St. Vincent de Paul conferences provide emergency assistance to people who may not meet the guidelines for other social service agencies run by the county or state, Holverson said. “The only criteria for us is they call for help.”
Conference members may be called to assist a family that is about to be evicted or have the water or power turned off. St. Vincent de Paul members make home visits to find out more about the situation and help the family come up with solutions, said Larry Thompson, co-chair of the St. Philip Conference walk in Woodland.
“Empathy and sympathy for people in need only increases if you do home visits,” Thompson said. After home visits, members often feel “more helped than the people we helped,” he said.
Linardos has seen the community impact of the walk. She said local businesses see people wearing shirts on walk day and ask, “What’s that about?”
In addition to contributing money, walk participants and sponsors are encouraged to donate food. In downtown Vancouver, organizers of the walk hosted by the Vancouver and Brush Prairie conferences will accept food donations at the starting point, the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater.
Food collected there, as well as at the walks in Woodland and Battle Ground, will be given to the Ozanam House food bank, located at Vancouver’s St. John the Evangelist Parish. The food bank is supported by several local parishes, including St. Philip, Sacred Heart and their missions, who provide volunteers.
The walk is a good way to get people involved in living out church teaching, according to Holverson: “It’s a vehicle to involve members of the parish in directly serving those in need.”
Friends of the Poor Walks are being held Sept. 23 in Sequim and Stanwood and Sept. 30 in Battle Ground, Everett, Marysville, Tacoma and Vancouver and Woodland. Donate or sign up to walk.
Want to start a walk?
St. Vincent de Paul conferences interested in hosting a Friends of the Poor Walk next year should pair up with a conference that has already held a walk, recommends Larry Thompson, co-chair of this year’s St. Philip Conference walk in Woodland. It can be a challenge, for instance, to find community sponsors for a first-time event, Thompson said. In the Woodland area, many businesses recognized the name from St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores, but didn’t know about the group’s services to families and individuals in need, he said. “Get in touch with a conference that has done it in the past,” Thompson advised. “Find out what worked and what didn’t.” That’s what the St. Philip Conference did in 2016, co-hosting the walk in Battle Ground to gain experience before sponsoring its own walk for the first time this year.
Kneeling in front, St. Vincent de Paul conference presidents Brian King of the St. Philip Conference, left, and Rex Holverson of the Sacred Heart Conference worked alongside event organizers to make last year’s Friends of the Poor Walk in Battle Ground a success. Photo: Courtesy Rex Holverson
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