Vincentians step up aid – Arlington Catholic Herald

Bruises from the economic double whammy of a pandemic followed by record inflation may be fading as price increases gradually ease, but local Society of St. Vincent de Paul volunteers report that demand for their assistance — rent and support public services; food and clothing; medical attention and more, is as urgent as ever.

“It could be double or triple” the previous number of monthly applications, said Paul “Korky” Korkemaz, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Arlington Council. Arlington Council encompasses 10 SVdP parish conferences, with nearly 500 combined volunteer members.

“Between COVID, inflation and probably a host of other factors, we have seen a huge increase,” Korkemaz said. “Rental assistance is number one…followed closely by food and utility assistance.”

He estimates that by 2022, the SVdP Arlington Council ultimately served more than 20,000 people, made at least 4,500 personal visits, and delivered more than $2 million in direct financial assistance, goods, and services.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Marietta Bernot, president of the 27-member St. Mary’s Basilica Conference. “We’ve never been through anything like this.” From March 2020 to October 2022, the Bernot conference added 1,000 new cases to its database, which includes the city of Alexandria.

Richard Chobot, conference president at Holy Spirit Church in Annandale, whose 34 members serve in six ZIP codes, shared a similar story. “Last year, we could be doing about $7,000 a month” in relief, Chobot said. “This year we are probably earning on average between $14,000 and $15,000 a month.” The Holy Spirit Conference recently received the “Best of Braddock” award in recognition of their efforts.

“Before COVID, we were getting rental calls for hundreds of dollars,” Korkemaz recalled. A couple hundred, three hundred, and they’re back even with the owner. Now we are seeing them by the thousands,” he said.

While a temporary national eviction moratorium for unpaid rent was in place during the pandemic, most general protections have expired. “Many of these cases are threatened with eviction or are in the process of eviction,” Korkemaz noted. “So you can feel the stress on the other end of the phone or on the other side of the table.” The lack of rental income also affected landlords; In addition, they now find themselves with tenants who do not understand that they are still obligated to pay back rent.

The twin blow of COVID and inflation has brought many people already experiencing poverty to the brink of insolvency. Job loss, reduced hours and positions without benefits have played a role.

“The working poor…are working, but barely making it. They live paycheck to paycheck,” Bernot said. “If something goes wrong, there’s a car expense or there’s a medical expense, they can’t pay rent or utilities. With COVID, they fell behind. And in many, many cases that we’re seeing…they couldn’t get out.”

“Go to the poor”, said Saint Vincent de Paul, “there you will find God”. Founded in 1833 largely through the efforts of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, a French lawyer, members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, known as Vincentians, embrace both personal sanctification and service to those in need.

“Our job is to show the face of Christ to those we serve,” Chobot said. “But by doing that, we’re not just helping them, we’re helping ourselves.” Korkemaz observed that he finds Jesus in the poor. “It could be a woman; he could be a boy; he could be an old man, an old woman,” he said. “I have to believe that it is Christ looking at me.”

That personal relationship is fundamental.

“We don’t just talk to people and put them on a computer, and write a check,” Korkemaz said. Face-to-face meetings “allow us to see the holistic vision of that family. Yes, they have a utility bill to pay, but maybe if I look around the corner, they don’t have a bed to sleep in, or maybe they don’t have enough food for their kids in the fridge.”

“What we are giving them is not just monetary support when we can,” Chobot emphasized. “We are giving them the dignity of an answer.”

With 70 parishes and only 10 conferences, Korkemaz always has expansion in mind and encourages parishes without an SVdP conference to consider compromise. More bilingual translators would also be a welcome addition. “We will always have to be able to support our brothers and sisters at a lower income level.” Korkemaz said. “It will always be here.”

Heatherington is self-employed in Alexandria.

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