For the past 56 years, members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society have visited individuals and families on Vashon to help them through difficult times. We do a “home visit” because we often find that someone seeking help with rent, utility bills, food, or transportation may also need something else. Sometimes it’s just a conversation.
Our assistance is available to all in need regardless of creed, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or citizenship. The Society, founded in 1833 by a French college student inspired to serve and advocate for the poor, operates worldwide and has 800,000 members. There are a dozen of us here on Vashon. We volunteer our time so that all the money entrusted to us supports our neighbors in their time of need. Most of our funds come from island Catholics but we are glad to accept tax-deductible donations from anyone.
After the COVID pandemic hit two months ago, public health precautions prevented us from doing home visits. Consequently, we went through the list of those whom we had assisted in the past year and phoned, emailed or text messaged them to see if we could help.
As needed, we assisted those who had lost their jobs with help in applying for unemployment benefits, the stimulus check and other emergency aid. We also helped them find food through the food bank, the school district, the Senior Center, VIGA’s Food Access Partnership and the community meal program. And, in partnership with the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness (IFCH) and Vashon Youth & Family Services, we helped some pay their rent.
In doing so, we discovered that there is a significant group of our neighbors for whom there is little or no safety net. They are typically restaurant workers, house cleaners, nannies, landscapers and handymen who are not eligible for government benefits. Often they work for cash and don’t have Social Security cards or proper identity papers. Language, culture and fears of deportation sometimes compound the situation.
Their biggest need is help with rent. In the past six weeks, we’ve provided over $11,000 of rent assistance to 19 families (a total of 65 adults and children) so they could keep a roof over their heads. Among them were:
- A family of five, whose cook and waitress jobs vanished overnight when the restaurant reduced its fare to curbside takeout.
- A single woman, who works as a housekeeper, whose job ended when her employers wanted no one to enter their home for fear of the virus.
- An extended family of seven, including three children, whose wage earners are now prevented from doing childcare and construction.
We expect the need for rent assistance to last as long as the pandemic lasts and likely longer. Generous contributors replenished our depleted funds in April. But St. Vincent de Paul and other island social service organizations count on your continuing support.
If you or a neighbor you know needs help with rent, utilities, food or other basic needs leave a message in English or Spanish on our Help Hotline at 206.450.7577. You can support our work by sending a check to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, PO Box 308, Vashon, WA 98070. Thank you for helping our neighbors in need.
John McCoy is vice president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society Conference on Vashon.