St. Vincent de Paul organizations around the archdiocese are being creative as they continue serving increasing numbers of people in need during the coronavirus pandemic. They’re also seeking the community’s financial help as some of their usual revenue sources — collections at Masses and thrift store sales — are interrupted.
“At this time of uncertainty, we do not want to leave our neighbors in need feeling even more isolated and abandoned,” said Hannah Hunthausen, senior manager for mission renewal and community engagement for St. Vincent de Paul of Seattle/King County. “At the same time, we recognize that in certain circumstances, God calls us to a different way of living out our Vincentian mission.”
For instance, home visits — the core work of the society that brings Vincentian volunteers face-to-face with their neighbors in need — are continuing, but some parish-based conferences are now doing them by phone.
The Seattle/King County council, the umbrella organization for 53 parish-based conferences, is encouraging its Vincentian volunteers to follow public health recommendations for social distancing, but also to remain grounded in Vincentian spirituality and values as they serve those in need.
“This means that we continue to serve neighbors in a relational, empathetic, patient, prayerful and affirming spirit that does not sink to the level of the transactional and expedient,” Hunthausen said in a March 20 communication to Vincentians in King County.
So, volunteers might make a visit more personal by using a video calling app, do more personal follow-up and consider shopping for seniors and shut-ins.
Financial need is great
As the outbreak continues, SVdP organizations have started seeing more people in need. The Seattle council has seen a 20 percent increase in calls to its helpline in the last few weeks, said Mirya Muñoz-Roach, executive director.
In the southern part of the archdiocese, the demand for food boxes tripled in one week at the food bank operated by the SVdP Vancouver Conference, according to Phil Gulling, conference president.
Changes in operations that reduce the risk of passing the virus have allowed the food bank to remain open, added Gulling, whose conference is sponsored by four Vancouver-area parishes: Holy Redeemer, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Joseph and the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater.
In February, the conference gave out nearly 1,300 food boxes, serving more than 3,500 people, and 50 families received rent or utility assistance, Gulling said. Those numbers are expected to rise.
As the need is increasing, the sources of funding that support the work of SVdP have also been hit by the pandemic.
Many St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores, which help people stretch their budgets and provide regular revenue to help those in need, have been temporarily closed because of the outbreak. (Closures include all five stores in King County.) And with all public Masses in the archdiocese canceled, there are no regular collections to support a parish’s SVdP conference. (Parishes with online giving may have an option for SVdP donations.)
The Seattle council has added an online giving option to its website that allows donors to select their parish’s conference, Hunthausen said.
Other organizations, like St. Vincent de Paul of Tacoma-Pierce County (which has “indefinitely” closed both its thrift stores), the Vancouver Conference and Our Lady Star of the Sea Conference in Bremerton have donation sections on their websites.
“The need for financial support to St. Vincent de Paul has never been greater,” says a website message from the executive director of the Bremerton conference. “We appreciate your donations as they go directly to keeping our Assistance Office operations alive. We thank you for your prayers and donations during this time more than ever. God bless you.”
The conference plans to keep its thrift store open “as long as possible to help support the community and our workforce,” the director wrote, adding that food assistance is now being provided with a drive-through food bank. Its women’s shelter continues operating, and other assistance is being provided on an individual basis.
In Snohomish County, the North Sound Council has temporarily closed its Everett and Monroe stores, according to Inga Paige, executive director and CEO.
Getting creative to meet their mission
Creative solutions are coming into play so that SVdP conferences can continue their mission.
In Vancouver, families are no longer coming inside the conference’s 8,000-square-foot warehouse to “shop” for food. Instead, volunteers are making boxes and placing them on a roller conveyer, Gulling said. The end of the conveyer sits 3–4 feet outside the building, allowing families to pick up a box while maintaining social distancing, he explained.
“The families are very appreciative of it and it seems to work well for our volunteers,” Gulling said.
Home visits, made when anyone requests rental assistance, are being done by phone, he added.
In Seattle, the council’s call-in line is operating remotely, Hunthausen said, and they are testing out remote access for helpline volunteers. New volunteers will be sought once video and online training resources are developed, she said.
At its Georgetown Food Bank, food is being prepackaged and protocols for serving those in need will change “significantly” starting March 24, “in accordance with increasingly strict public health recommendations,” Hunthausen said. Food bank volunteers are always needed, and food bank donations are needed “now more than ever,” she said.
Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jean Parietti es editora local para el sitio web NWCatholic.org y destacada editora de la revista Noroeste Católico/Northwest Catholic. Pueden contactarle en: email@example.com.