SEQUM — The need can come in various forms: a man whose septic system overflowed, a woman with a tree about to fall on her house, a husband trying to pick his wife up after she’s discharged from a hospital but he has no money for the gas or ferry tickets.
“A fridge goes out so the people have to throw it all out,” Mike McAleer said. “What do they do now?”
Quite often in these day-to-day Sequim emergencies, it’s a call to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Edward S. Koszykowski is president of the society’s St. Joseph Conference (Sequim area), and says the group has helped more than 2,500 individuals since the beginning of its fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2022.
“We don’t see people in poverty as a burden,” Koszykowski said.
The all-volunteer group operates without an office and with funding from United Way and donations from the community.
Now the organization is preparing for its annual Friends of the Poor Walk/Run, set for Saturday at Carrie Blake Community Park, 202 N. Blake Ave. The event, curtailed for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the Joseph Conference’s lone fundraiser for the year.
Registration starts at 11:30 a.m. and the walk/run, either around the Albert Haller Playfields on the park’s north end or toward Whitefeather Way on the Olympic Discovery Trail to the south and east, begins at noon. The event will have water stations along the routes.
Volunteers with Sequim’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul group assist with everything from rent and utilities to food, prescription medicines, clothing and repair and various essential services. Sequim’s chapter — consisting of 18 active members and eight associate members — is one of seven within the Olympic Peninsula District Council, and handles needs within the Sequim School District boundaries.
From early October 2022 to mid-August 2023, the organization has provided about $145,200 in assistance. The top three needs supported in the past year are utilities (about $34,400), rent (about $33,250) and gas (about $11,200), with car repairs not far behind.
The critical need, Koszykowski says, is rent.
“For so many people it’s the affordability,” he said.
And it’s not just an economic issue, Koszykowski noted. Sequim has widows making decisions between paying their electricity bill or their rent. Single parents sometimes find themselves in a tough spot when they have to stay at home with a sick child and miss a day’s wages.
Some who use the organization’s services are one-and-done, some need help consistently. No cash is handed out, however, St. Vincent de Paul volunteers note.
But it’s often aid that comes at critical moments. Sequim’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul is “open” seven days a week, with two people on call at all times.
“Our responsiveness is one of our strengths,” Koszykowski said.
However, the help is a stop-gap as the volunteers look to help people with longer-term issues by connecting them with Sequim Community Aid, Serenity House and Olympic Community Action Programs.
“We can’t sustain people,” Koszykowski said.
What makes St. Vincent de Paul, noted McAleer, an organization board member, is the home visits. Volunteers will go to a person’s home and figure out solutions.
“Sometimes it’s people living above their means,” McAleer said, so volunteers sometimes help a person construct a budget.
In the late 1980s, Sequim’s St. Vincent de Paul volunteers made 15 home visits. This past year, it was 174.
“[The visits] make it so personal; we send a message that they matter,” Koszykowski said.
The organization also maintains a food pantry for emergency food needs, conducts an annual Christmas Giving Tree for children at its parish, and hosts an annual luncheon for incarcerated youth in Port Angeles in early December.
Community members can help support the St. Joseph Conference of St. Vincent de Paul at the organization’s walk/run on Saturday. They can bring a check, or take an envelope home to mail in at a later date.
“This is an incredibly generous community,” Koszykowski says.
St. Joseph Conference of St. Vincent de Paul’s Help Line is 360-683-2112.