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:

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… 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?



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mental Health

Hope House has been in service for almost 14 years! Hard to believe, I know, but we have grown so much. Awkwardly, most of our growth has led to “reactive” policies and procedures being put into place, sometimes to be discontinued almost as quickly as they are formed. Not the organized and thoughtful program we would prefer. Not that it has been all bad---I often say that new volunteers and even new clients often have the best ideas of how we should do something when we are stuck in an old rut. But in our growth, we have come to the point where we really need to start planning and acting strategically and “proactively”.

So what brings this subject up? Well, I just had our second fire drill (which went quite well), we are working on a safety manual, and our staff meetings tend towards concerns about mentally ill patients and the increasing stress level of some of our clients. Some of us are going to be taking a class in Mental Health First Aid so that we may better serve those of our clients who suffer from all sorts of mental health issues. This brings me to the second subject of this blog post: lack of available mental health care.

So now I will vent. Starting with the Community Mental Health Act in the Kennedy administration, and continuing into the 80’s with President Reagan’s turning over the responsibility to the states with block grants, mental health care for those most affected has been gutted. Local communities are often unequipped to deal with the stress of those suffering mental illness and homelessness in their area. Many of our clients, both in the Street Outreach and in Hope House, are clinically mentally ill, with several suffering severe schizophrenia.

So what happens to you if you are severely mentally ill, and you have no family or you have burned your bridges with your family over the years? Well, our government says you have the constitutional right to  choose to be mentally ill and homeless, not take your meds., not understand reality, be preyed upon by others, self-medicate with illegal drugs and sit shivering in the woods in the winter because you don’t trust anyone in the strange world you live in. My question is—if you are mentally ill, do you have the wherewithal to make the decision to not take medication, seek treatment and wander the streets?

An example: Anna, a beautiful 40 year old schizophrenic woman, homeless, believes everyone is raping her, cutting her baby’s head off (we don’t think she even has a baby), stealing her fortune….on and on. She speaks loudly, often profanely and says horrific things that have brought her to be a persona non grata on the bus, at the Rainbow Center, at the Mission. We still see her at Hope House, we work with her, but she breaks our heart. Where is she sleeping in winter? Where does she think she is?

Another example: Billy, a slight, quiet man in his 30’s, who is also schizophrenic. I say he is quiet, but he is usually mumbling to himself and to the clothing and the walls, etc. Occasionally he has a bad day and gets quite loud in his talking, but will quiet down if it is pointed out to him. Billy is a nice man who would be so much better off with his medication, but who will remind him to take it? Who will help keep him safe?

My heart breaks for these wonderful and unfortunate people, and I ask myself, why am I so blessed? And why is it so hard for this world to share the blessings with all her citizens?



Friday, March 14, 2014

One thing after another.

Here is how quickly your world can start to unravel around you:
·         You nurse your mother through her final days during the summer.
·         Your sister is diagnosed with breast cancer and is scheduled to for a mastectomy in February.
·         Your significant other suffers a fatal stroke at home and paramedics are unable to save him. In the process, the front door of your home and the stovetop are damaged.
·         Six days later, your sister comes home from the hospital after her mastectomy and suddenly dies.
·         By the way, you are also disabled with Multiple Sclerosis, and live in a remote part of Whatcom County. You have now lost a significant part of your financial support as well as all of your emotional support systems.
·         You are unable to continue having a phone, due to money issues.
·         Your car dies and you purchase another one from an acquaintance. Unfortunately, the tabs are over a year old, and you get stopped by the police and your car is towed. You have no money and no one to call, so you walk a long way home.
·         You take what little money you have left to get the title and registration updated for the car, now you have to go to court for the ticket you received.
·         In the meantime, you are being charged $45 per day for the impound fees. You have come up with almost half of what you need to get it out, but if you don’t get the rest asap, the fees will become insurmountable.
At this point, the woman sitting in front of me is fighting back tears, because the totality of all the bad things is finally pressing her down. Also at this point, our Assumption Financial Assistance kicked in and paid for the rest of her impound fees so that she could start to breathe again!
What is the point? The point is that we often see ordinary people to whom bad things/luck have happened and their world started falling slowly apart. The little request for diapers may hide the despair of unpaid bills, a missing husband, a lost job, a broken down car….any of the circumstances that send lives spiraling out of control. At Hope House we try very hard to “see” past the simple request and meet the unsaid needs, if only as a sounding board (which is what the woman had asked me to be that day).
I’ve said it before, sometimes the needs are not visible nor physical, but emotional or spiritual.