|August 14, 2017 • VOL. 55, NO. 14 • Oakland, CA|
Cross-Bay collaboration benefits refugee family
Catholic Charities of the East Bay has been resettling refugees for decades. An effort to engage parishes in this work began last year, with more than half the parishes expressing interest in helping.
Add to that cooperation a Catholic parish in Menlo Park that has reached across the Bay to partner with an Oakland parish.
When St. Denis Parish of Menlo Park wanted to answer Pope Francis' call to resettle refugees, its outreach committee found that neither Catholic Charities of San Francisco nor Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County does this work.
The Menlo Park parishioners could see why: the high cost of housing on the Peninsula and South Bay.
Not to be deterred, the St. Denis parishioners contacted Catholic Charities of the East Bay to see if they could partner with an East Bay parish that could use some help resettling a refugee family.
They were introduced to St. Leo the Great Parish in Oakland, which in November, welcomed a young family of three from Afghanistan. The baby arrived in the receiving blanket he was given at the hospital where he was born.
Housing has been a particular problem since the family's arrival. The three first stayed with a relative: Eight people in a one bedroom, one bath apartment did not work well.
As the helpers searched for housing, the family stayed at a motel in Alameda at an unanticipated cost of $99 a night for two weeks.
Donna Schmitt, coordinator of St. Leo's refugee program, did her best. She put out a call to neighborhood groups. A Piedmont family took the family in until a suitable apartment was found. The rent for a small apartment was $1,400 a month.
The $11,000 the Piedmont Avenue parish had to put together was sinking slowly. (Schmitt is pleased to note that St. Joseph Parish in Fremont picked up the tab for the hotel stay).
That's when the St. Denis folks kicked into gear. As a Lenten project, they set a goal of raising $20,000 to help with the family's needs.
"We, too, wanted to respond to the Pope Francis' call," said Rev. Paul O'Dell, pastor of the 850-member parish, which includes both St. Denis Church in Menlo Park and Our Lady of the Wayside Church in Portola Valley.
It was also, he said, "a great way to help another parish."
"People responded very well and generously," he said. The parish raised $28,000, which Catholic Charities of the East Bay is distributing on behalf of the family.
Father O'Dell's parish's commitment to helping the refugees continues. St. Denis is among the parishes helping with the needs of a recently arrived large family from the Congo.
Parishioner Marge DeStaebler arranged for a donation of a used car to the family, which has also provided a source of income. The father drives for Lyft as he awaits certification for security work.
He served as a driver for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The sensitivity of his work prompts him to ask that his family's names and images not be used in publication. Some family members remain in Afghanistan.
But what the people of St. Denis Parish hadn't had the opportunity to do, in numbers, was to meet the family. On a warm Sunday in July, after Masses, they put on a barbecue and invited the family and the Oakland committee members.
Upon the family's arrival, parishioners huddled around the baby's stroller.
"This is our family," Pat Mach, outreach committee chair, introduced them to the cheers of the parishioners seated at tables.
A guitarist softly played, "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You."
"Many people are impassioned by this," Mach said later. She called the response to the needs of the refugees an example of "bringing your talents."
"Many times our talents are hidden," she said. The talents demonstrated have been direct service, as well as the talent involved in writing a check.
"We have an outreach committee looking for ways to help people," she said. "Marge DeStaebler led the parish in responding to the Pope Francis' call to all of us to reach out and help refugee families."
Schmitt told the gathering about the family members, and introduced St. Leo parishioners who have been involved in their care. They were joined by their pastor, Rev. Joseph Nguyen, who smiled as he called them, "our first family."
That first family enjoyed lunch surrounded by their new-found friends.
"I'm lucky to be here," the 30-year-old father said. "In my country, the situation is not too good."
Coming to America was a big decision, he said, as he held his 14-month-old son on his lap.
"That's why I'm here," he said, "because of him."
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