Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Loaves and fishes.....

Every year Hope House adopts 60-75 (except for the year God told me to keep on going and we ended up with 114—but that’s another blog post!) families for our Christmas list. In these families, each child receives a stuffed stocking, a clothing gift and a toy gift. It’s a wonderful program and one of the highlights of our year is the distribution of gifts. We encourage families, groups and companies to adopt whole families each year, so that it makes the gathering and distribution easier. This year, we were blessed with 74 families being adopted outright! This leaves us with no whole families on our list, so we were able to put generic gift tags on our Angel Tree at church. What that means is that starting yesterday; we began to distribute single, wrapped gifts to those children whose families did not make it on our list—I put 140 tags on the tree and we still ran out of tags! People brought us random gifts and toys in their place.

So here is how wonderful this place is. Emmanuel means “God with us”, and sometimes I think we should change our name to Emmanuel’s House. Why? We started giving out gifts yesterday morning with 3 bookcases full of wrapped gifts. We were VERY busy all morning, and yet, at the end of the morning, we still had 3 bookcases full of wrapped gifts; they just kept coming! He has let us know many times that He is with us every day, and this is just the latest example. God is truly with us and our mission at Hope House.

When I squint, I can almost see Him handing out the loaves and fishes………

Friday, December 5, 2014

Family and Football.......

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have the best job in the world! Today is a typical Friday, busy, crazy, noisy and crowded; and yet, somehow it works out and feels homey around here. When I wander out to the buzzing waiting room, I find laughter, teasing and sharing of resources and information. I ask if we are having a party and I get lots of smiles in return. It probably helps that at this time of year, we are blessed with extra goodies to share in the waiting area—people bring us candy, Christmas cookies, oranges—and that makes everyone smile. I am always amazed at the patience my clients share with each other and the “system”.

On Monday mornings, our waiting room becomes the “morning after” football discussion and critique. Our clients are huge Seahawks fans and we wear our colors proudly! When the occasional Bears or Cowboys fan wanders in, the teasing begins, but we all have fun with the whole subject. I wish the Seahawks could see how much they mean to those with little else to brighten their days.

So what’s the point? The point is that Hope House is family to those who need our services. We are a place where people feel valued and welcome. We are a community within our greater community and we are proud of it! Our clients love coming in and being greeted by name, they like that we know who their children are and what they are up to. They love the teasing and laughter they find to go give them armor to face the rest of their day.

At this time of year, to borrow a phrase, “Hope House is one of the happiest places on earth!”

Monday, October 13, 2014

Holiday buzz!

We are officially in the crazy time of the year at Hope House. It all starts with Back-to-School in August, Christmas sign-ups in October and holiday closings and needs from here on to the New Year! Our waiting room is FULL every day with busyness and warmth, Seahawk pride, plans for Halloween and lots of beautiful children. We turn on the heat, break out the pumpkin decorations and hand out gloves and hats as fast as we get them. I love this time of year, both at home with my family and here at Hope House with this family.

My challenge in all of this is always juggling the joy of the holidays, particularly Christmas, and the stress of the added work that our Christmas Program brings. Sometimes I get cranky dealing with people who appear in July asking for Christmas presents or show up on October 1st every year to apply for the program. I have to remind myself that these are parents trying to make sure their children have some semblance of the same holiday experience other children they know have. We have rules in place about how often families can access our Christmas list, and that should be the end of my angst about it!

Every year I also hear from those who think we are too generous with our Christmas Program. In the past, we have not only bought gifts for the children, but also a small gift for each parent. Some say we should only give a small gift to each child, and give the family a big box of food. We have compromised this year in changing the program to be only for the children—no gifts for the parents; but knowing our donors, many of the families will also receive “family gifts” of food, blankets, games, etc. Each year, I am overwhelmed by the generosity of those who support our mission.

So to those who think we are too generous (and to my cranky self in the middle of it!), here is what I say:

Try to think back to your childhood years – remember the excitement building up in school over all the holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas). Remember costumes, finger puppet turkeys and snowflakes cut from white paper? Every recess in December was dedicated to discussion of what toy was the best to ask Santa for, weighing the merits, seeing what your friends are asking for—all so important to children. Coming back to school in January was so exciting because we all got to compare who got what from Santa!

Now picture being a child who hears all of this, who eagerly joins in the toy conversations before the Christmas break and who goes home to a meager Christmas. He/she finds only a small Dollar Store toy under the tree from Santa. In January, he hears about the Mega-Transformers, the Barbie dolls, the bikes and scooters, the Lego’s that the other children found under the tree from Santa. What does this say to this child about how valuable he is to Santa? What does that translate into his/her soul about their worth in this world? To a child, Santa is God and if he doesn’t value them, then what are they worth?

I refuse to let any children I know suffer this feeling of insignificance if I can help them see and feel that they are children of God and worth far more than they realize.

“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”


Friday, September 26, 2014


These last few days at Hope House have been all about “reminders” for me. You know, those moments when the situation in front of you “reminds” you of God’s love, grace and mercy? I’ll admit I don’t always pay enough attention, so sometimes; He has to be very clear!

Reminder #1: As Amy Grant sings, “The honest cries of breaking hearts are better than a Hallelujah”. One morning this week, I sat helplessly watching a women silently weep as we did her intake and discerned her needs. As I assured her we are a safe place, and we would love to help, her tears continued to flow. Did she doubt us? No, she was upset at needing help, relieved at getting it, and overwhelmed by the compassion offered. By the time she left, she was smiling through damp eyes, and promising to come back for Christmas assistance. We are God’s hands on earth.

Reminder #2: Like the Little Engine That Could, some never give up. I talked today to a young man who is currently homeless and living in a tent  in his mother’s yard—with his 5 year old daughter, who he has full custody of.  They have been homeless for about a month, she is in kindergarten and is having fun “camping” with her daddy, and he is trying desperately to find work and shelter for them. Today we were able to help with the paperwork he will need to get housing through the local housing authority. He told me he was a foster child, and would never let his daughter go through that system. He referred to her as his shining star. We are God’s eyes on earth.

Reminder #3: Gloria Gaynor’s song “I will Survive” says all you need to know about Linda. A single mom of three beautiful girls, working in the healthcare industry here, but unable to afford the cost of living, she came to me in early summer with a plan to move her family to Oklahoma to a town with jobs and housing. I encouraged her, set her up with financial aid from several area churches, and cheered when I received this email about her: Linda has a job with good wages and benefits, has a 3 bedroom apartment for $500 per month and is doing very well. She expressed her thanks to all who helped and asked that I be told how well she is doing. We are God’s ears on earth.

We are the human and physical representation of God here on earth, members of His Holy body, and we all need to reach out with love to each other. Together, we can weep, pick up the pieces, and move forward.


Monday, August 18, 2014

School time!

As a mother of four (and grandmother of 6!),  I know all too well how stressful this time of year is for parents—school clothing, school supplies, sports fees, school pictures and book orders, backpacks and shoes—the list is endless! Our family was not low income, but it still put a huge dent in our budget and made September a hard, hard month.

This is why I love the Bellingham School District for their policy of providing supplies and fees to all children. Check out their reasoning here: https://bellinghamschools.org/sites/default/files/district/documents/SchoolSupplyFlyer.pdf

Would that more school districts would adopt this policy! At Hope House, it helps us to focus on those children who attend County schools that don’t provide these supplies. Trust me, I picked up their supply lists and they are incredibly long, filled with items like Dry Erase markers, reams of computer paper, and $100 calculators. Really? What exactly is the school providing?

If you would like to help support those families who are hurting this time of year, we can use the following to help our families make the first day of school special for their children:

·         New underwear and socks for all ages.

·         New and very gently used backpacks for children and teens.

·         School supplies of all kinds.

·         If you are so inclined, new shoes of various sizes, or “hoodies” and jackets.

Try to think back to your first day of school each fall: new clothes, squeaky new shoes, fresh paper and pencils, a new box of crayons. Let’s make the first of day school special for all of our area children!


Friday, July 25, 2014

Treasure Sale!!!!

The volunteers and the staff of Hope House are very pleased to announce the 13th Annual “Spirit of Hope” Treasure Sale on Saturday, August 2nd.   This sale is the primary fundraiser for the Hope House, a program of Catholic Community Services. The Hope House program is a basic needs and outreach program in Whatcom County to benefit individuals and families in need.

This is not a rummage sale, but a real Treasure Sale of very special items.  Please come and join us!

Antiques, art, decorator items, furniture, sporting goods, gourmet kitchen ware, garden items, plants, jewelry, crystal, china, pottery, porcelain, linens and specialty items are still arriving.  This year’s Treasure Sale promises to be our best yet!

The 13th Annual Treasure Sale will be held in the Assumption Gym, August 2nd from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.   The gym is located on Kentucky Street adjacent to the Assumption Catholic Church at 2116 Cornwall Street in Bellingham.

Hope House has been helping our local citizens for more than a decade by providing clothing, household items, emergency food, and outreach.

Hope House is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and on Fridays from Noon to 3:30 p.m.

Donations are happily received during these hours and in our bright red “Donations Box.”


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dreaming of a brighter future....

We live in a beautiful part of this world, here in Whatcom County. We have mountains to ski and hike on, forests to camp in and water to boat on. We have one university, one community college and one technical college; a minor league baseball team and a symphony; parks and playgrounds, an aquatic center, more golf courses than we should need….the list goes on. The point is that this is a wonderful place to live—if you are a wealthy retiree or have a family history here with family business/land to count on.

 For a good many of our neighbors, the good life is out of their reach. Skiing, golf, ball games and swimming fees are way beyond their limited budgets, and while parks and hiking are free, their time isn’t. They spend their days working part time at minimum wage jobs, and then continue their day with standing in line at the food bank, meeting with case managers or coming to Hope House or the Salvation Army hoping to receive hygiene items, clothing, gas vouchers and bus passes. Or they pick up their phones and spend 4 hours trying to get through and get an appointment for energy assistance at the Opportunity Council. In other words, their jobs don’t end when they get off work.

To make it all worse, the cost of living in Whatcom County is 23% higher than the US average. Rents are out of control and food costs rise every day. For those who live on very small budgets, often paying the rent takes everything you make, so the rest of your monthly expenses come from food stamps, TANF and social service agencies. We see families at Hope House every day who are working but simply cannot make it through the month.

What has caused this disparity between what you can earn and what you need to live? Many factors, but the main factor is the lack of living wage jobs. You cannot raise a family on the pay at McDonald’s, not even from waitressing at an upscale restaurant like Scotty Brown’s or Anthony’s. The closing of factories, plants and refineries causes shifts all along the economic line—decreased ability of families to buy food, clothing, cars and houses; which leads to decreased jobs at restaurants, stores and auto dealerships. The housing market declines, property taxes don’t cover as much as they need to…..you get the picture.

So here is where I will probably alienate a segment of this audience. I will go out on a limb and say it is not ok to foster a NIMBY attitude in this County, to continue to insist that big business is bad, that everything must be local (and expensive), to close those factories and businesses that have traditionally paid good living wage jobs without a college degree required (think logging, fishing, oil, paper…). Those wealthy retirees and Seattle transplants who want the “green” living experience are disregarding that this is HOME to more than just those with lots of disposable income. You cannot sustain a community on service jobs alone and that is where we are heading.

In the last week alone, I have had two clients whom I have known for years come in and say they are moving. They can no longer stand the constant struggle to live each day; one of them is a single mom who states that she works full time in the healthcare industry, but still needs to come home and go stand in line at the food bank, visit Hope House, call the Opportunity Council, etc. She says her job should cover them, but in this area, it doesn’t. She has done her research and is moving to Enid, Oklahoma to accept a job in a community where she and her daughters can afford to live. The other family is a couple who simply cannot afford to ever live their American Dream here in Bellingham, so they have accepted a transfer to Nebraska so that they can start moving upwards.

If Whatcom County is such a dream place to live, why are people leaving?