Saint-Vincent de Paul casts a safety net for families in difficulty


EL SOBRANTE – The sound of flowing water as dozens of goldfish glide around an aquarium in the living room creates a calming vibe, a stark contrast to the nearly four years of physical and emotional turmoil that Rich Parker and his family endured.

The first of several hard knocks came two days after Christmas in 2017, when faulty wiring sparked a fire that permanently chased the Parkers out of the Richmond home where they had lived for 24 years.

Then, in September 2019, their 16-year-old daughter became collateral damage in a gang-related shootout after a high school football game on Friday night which she attended with a group of friends. Three teenagers were hit, but Ashley was by far the worst off: The bullet that lodged near her spine caused doctors to fear brain damage from the loss of oxygen as they struggled to keep her alive.

Ashley Parker listens to her sister Melissa tell the story of a shooting that crippled Ashley as they sit in the family’s backyard in El Sobrante, Calif. On Thursday, October 28, 2021. The Society of Saint -Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County helped the family through devastating hardship by providing food and other support. (Dylan Bouscher / Bay Area News Group)

She survived but left the hospital 15 weeks later in a wheelchair, permanently paralyzed from the chest down.

And at the end of March, Theresa Parker, 59, suffered a brain aneurysm while working as a babysitter at a patient’s home. Surgery and seizure medication followed, along with three more emergency room visits.

She lost 32 pounds. during this setback and only now, he slowly regains that weight, while struggling with depression. But Theresa still clings to her Christian faith, and gratitude leaves no room for self-pity or anger.

“We are still alive. We’re fine, ”she said. “God takes care of me, of my family. (He) said ‘I won’t give you anything you can’t handle.’ “

Rich Parker, 54, is also holding up; he says he gets his strength from listening to worship music. “I really try to stay true,” he said.

Money is tight with the $ 15 hourly wage he and his wife earn, but the family has found help with their food bills from St. Vincent de Paul in Contra Costa County.

After spotting a food giveaway organized by the nonprofit at St. Callistus Church in El Sobrante, where the family now lives, Theresa Parker has become a regular visitor and, since December, has been collecting four to six bags. of groceries per week, according to volunteers.

EL SOBRANTE, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 28: (left) Brian Boyle, a communications and development associate with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Contra Costa County, hands over food to Melissa Parker (right) in El Sobrante , Calif., Thursday, October 28, 2021 (Dylan Bouscher / Bay Area News Group)

She also received a free winter coat through one of the organization’s non-profit partners.

In addition, the association is prepared to subsidize the family’s monthly rent of $ 2,500, as it has done for many others in Contra Costa County.

Saint-Vincent-de-Paul received funding this year from Share the Spirit, an annual vacation campaign that helps residents in need of the East Bay. Donations to the program have helped support 56 nonprofit agencies in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The organization will use its grant to purchase $ 15,000 in $ 50 Winco gift cards, which it will include in the 300 bags of groceries it plans to offer over the holidays to approximately 1,200 people. These Thanksgiving and Christmas meal staples are in addition to regular emergency food supplies.

Founded in 1964, Saint-Vincent de Paul addresses human needs on several fronts, serving as a temporary safety net for those struggling with hunger, homelessness, unemployment and lack of health care.

Although it is based in Pittsburg, it has a much wider reach, with 752 volunteers employing 29 branches that operate almost exclusively at Catholic church sites.

“These are really the boots on the pitch,” said CEO Claudia Ramirez.

Eighteen of these outposts operate pantries once or twice a week, and all issue vouchers that can be redeemed for clothing and furniture at any of Saint-Vincent’s three thrift stores. Paul. The organization also covers or subsidizes customers’ utility bills and will pay for license fees, insurance and repairs.

“It can make a huge difference for someone,” Ramirez said, noting that individuals might not be able to get to work without a working vehicle.

Agency volunteers also make home visits to learn about the family’s financial situation and develop ways to help both short and long term.

For example, a outreach team might find that a family struggling to pay rent is making their problems worse by resorting to high-interest payday loans to cover an unforeseen expense. Armed with this knowledge, they can help the family both by settling their debts and working with them to budget their income more effectively in the future.

St. Vincent de Paul also partners with other non-profit organizations to provide services such as meals, emergency shelter, and free dental services from its Family Resource Center in Pittsburg.

EL SOBRANTE, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 28: (Left) Theresa Parker kisses Brian Boyle (right) in the Parker family backyard in El Sobrante, Calif. On Thursday, October 28, 2021. The Society of Saint Vincent by Paul de Contra Costa County helps Parkers distribute food. (Dylan Bouscher / Bay Area News Group)

According to its most recent annual report, the organization in 2019-20 pprovided around 50,000 hot meals in its dining room, gsave tons of groceries, treated 670 uninsured patients for free in the medical clinic he opened ten years ago, donated four cars to families, helped around 1,800 people find shelter in the form of rent allowances and equipped 24 people with job search skills through its nearly six-month training program that includes part-time work.

Sometimes the care provided by Saint Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County can be life changing.

Ramirez remembers the homeless woman who enrolled in her workforce development program several years ago. Not only did the client get a job, but she eventually bought a house in the Central Valley.

“It means what we do here is making a difference,” said Ramirez. “It can change a life. “

Share the spirit

The Share the Spirit vacation campaign, sponsored by the Bay Area News Group, provides relief, hope and opportunity to residents in need by funding nonprofit vacation and outreach programs in the counties of Alameda and Contra Costa. To make a tax-deductible contribution, cut the coupon accompanying this story or go to Readers with questions, as well as individuals or businesses interested in making grants or contributions, can contact the Share the Spirit program at 925-655-8355 or [email protected]


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