ALLOUEZ — Helping families with financial struggles is the mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP). The Catholic agency’s mission, accomplished mainly through home visits by volunteers, has been magnified due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We give out about $110,000 a year, and we do about 870 home visits,” said Jeanne Harper, who is secretary of the SVDP’s St. Joseph Conference in Marinette. “We are anticipating a $20,000 shortfall.”
The pandemic has had a drastic impact on the conference’s donations, she told The Compass in a telephone interview May 29.
Support usually comes from donations collected at Holy Family Parish in Marinette, but those took a hit when public Masses were halted in March. The Tri-City Area United Way also changed their system of offering support, she added, “and we no longer receive grant stipends for basic services.”
Harper said the pandemic’s impact on local businesses will also trickle down to her agency. “Many of our local businesses will be in financial crisis due to COVID-19 and they will be unable to assist us throughout the year.”
On Monday, May 25, the St. Joseph Conference received a $3,000 grant from Stephenson National Bank and Trust of Marinette. “It will be used to offset” loss of funds, said Harper.
According to Harper, the conference helps residents of Marinette, Peshtigo, Porterfield and Walsh who are struggling financially due to lost jobs or wage cuts created by the pandemic.
The conference offers residents support for needs such as housing, utilities, prescriptions and transportation. Laws prohibiting utilities from being suspended during the winter expired on May 26, said Harper, “so now shut-offs can happen. For some, that can be like $200 a month.”
Even with the easing of safer-at-home restrictions, allowing businesses to open, Harper said the need for assistance will remain high.
“A lot of our people are waitresses, they’re hairdressers” who rely on tips to pay bills, she said. “But now they don’t have any tips. … So people don’t understand how this really affects the poor.
“Those living in poverty, a lot of them don’t file income taxes, so they don’t get that $1,200 or $400 per child (federal stimulus check),” Harper said. “People don’t have a clue how many hoops they have to go through to get that.”
Harper has been working with residents to maneuver government websites and help them gain access to stimulus funds.
“If you go onto the IRS link for COVID, there is a new tax form for those who don’t file (IRS taxes) because they make less than $12,000 a year, and that’s who we work with,” she said. “It takes about one hour because they have to get all of their information together. You have to set up all of these passwords” and help them create online bank accounts.
“So far this year we have already served about 280 families since January,” she said. On May 28, an apartment fire in Marinette left at least 21 people displaced. The St. Joseph Conference, along with the Red Cross, are helping the families.
“Today we will deliver food boxes to each family, so they have food for the weekend,” said Harper. “We contacted our national board and they will send us a rapid recovery grant that will help us to serve them.”
Another disappointing outcome of the pandemic, said Harper, is not being able to visit clients at their homes. “That’s who we are, we are home visitors,” said Harper. “We’re about relationships, so this whole COVID thing is really difficult. We’ve been doing virtual visits. They miss us not being able to be there with them.”
Harper said the day’s Gospel reading from May 29 captured the role of SVDP: “In the Gospel today, Jesus says feed my lambs, tend my sheep. That’s what we are doing, that’s what the St. Vincent de Paul Society is all about,” she said.
“We are about living the Gospel message and we feel gifted to be able to do that. We get so much more from the people we serve and we pray to God that they can feel the love of God through the work that we do for them.”
Editor’s note: Readers who would like to support the work of the St. Joseph Conference in Marinette can donate by visiting helpushelpsothers.org or by mailing a donation to St. Vincent de Paul Society, PO Box 563, Marinette, WI 54143-0563. Make checks payable to SJC-SSVDP.