Helping others help themselves is a year-round job

Frank Marchi reminded me of an ice cream bar.

A thin outer shell barely concealing the sweet inside.

He helps the down and out with a soft touch.

In these parts, needs far outweigh resources. Once a year, we publish a story called Ways to Give where dozens of organizations are invited to ask readers for specific help. It’s overwhelming. Groups like Arc of Snohomish County, Catholic Community Services, Crisis Respite, Housing Hope, food banks, Project Self-Sufficiency, EquiFriends, multiservice centers, basket bureaus and Source Child Center need food, clothing, toys, apartments and cash.

Traditionally at Christmastime, I assume most everyone donates something to a charity.

Who helps the needy year-round?

In Snohomish County, I see the issue as a connect-the-dots puzzle between organizations. A hit and miss conglomeration of assistance is dished here and there. There isn’t a master phone number in the Yellow Pages to call for housing, jobs, food and clothing.

Marchi, a store manager for St. Vincent de Paul Society of Snohomish County’s Everett store, said giving groups buddy up.

“The Snohomish County PUD will call here,” Marchi said. “For a $400 rent, we might ask the Salvation Army to pony up $100. We might pay $200, then ask the person to pay $50 and a church to pay $50.”

St. Vincent’s gives what it can, when it can. Some days it might be able to offer a motel voucher or warm clothing and a blanket. Someone might get money to keep the lights on or a bag of food.

Marchi said when someone calls for help, staff members visit the residence. Marchi, 66, assesses the entire situation.

“There are some real heartbreakers,” he said. “We went to a mobile home. It was dark, the lights were turned off, there was no water and no sanitation. They were cooking their last can of tomato soup on a borrowed Coleman stove.”

Marchi said at the visit, a 12-year-old boy asked, “Can you help us?”

Vincentiansc put the family in a motel for a week. The father found a maintenance job at a nearby hotel. Last year, the Society helped 16,137 folks. More than 250 volunteers worked more than 47,000 hours providing $435,480 in material assistance.

It’s never enough.

“We are a Band-Aid,” Marchi said. “After us, sometimes the next stop is DSHS or Housing Hope.”

He doesn’t have hard and fast rules for sharing the organization’s resources.

That day, he dealt with the following requests:

  • A California man, with hepatitis C, received a $20 voucher for Albertson’s and two nights at a motel.

  • A man needed clothes and a sleeping bag. He had just gotten out of jail and was working as a roofer, but his truck was broken into and his possessions stolen. He lived in the truck.

  • A man received $5 to pay for a night at the mission.

  • A woman arrived with a $72 power shut-off notice.

  • A man wanted a room with a phone to make calls to find a place to live.

  • A man arrived from Spokane to answer a summons. The case was tossed out of court, and the man needed a bus ticket home.

  • Three women, living at the women’s mission, came in needing clothing.

    That was just one morning at St. Vincent de Paul.

    Though rescue options may seem minor, St. Vincent’s has a major goal.

    “Our philosophy is to help them help themselves,” Marchi said. “We want them to accept responsibility. We come to a point, you ask yourself, when are we no longer helping them?”

    He said sometimes it’s hard to tell the needy from the greedy.

    There are lingering memories. A 385-pound man, dying of cancer, needed a gas voucher so his friend could drive him back and forth to the doctor. Marchi visited the man in Granite Falls, lying on a beat-up couch.

    “The house was a shambles,” Marchi said. “It gagged you.”

    DSHS got the man a hospital bed. Vincentians cleaned the house.

    Diane Johnson, who volunteers at the Everett store, went on home interviews with Marchi. On calls, she liked to leave a book called “Depending on God.”

    Marchi said Johnson taught him to give help and hugs.

    I asked Marchi if he had a soft spot.

    “For all of them,” he said.

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