(Clockwise) Theresa, Richard, Melissa and Ashley Parker pose for a portrait in the family’s front yard in El Sobrante on Thursday, October 28, 2021. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County assists the Parkers with food distribution. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group)


St. Vincent de Paul helps El Sobrante family after a crushing series of events

The agency is a safety net for people struggling with hunger, homelessness, unemployment, and lack of health care

Bay Area News Group

Published November 2021

Note: This story is from our 2021 campaign and has been fulfilled, but you can still donate to the Share the Spirit general fund.

The sound of trickling water as dozens of goldfish glide around an aquarium in the living room creates a soothing ambience, a stark contrast to the nearly four years of physical and emotional turmoil Rich Parker and his family have endured.

The first of several crushing blows came two days after Christmas in 2017, when faulty wiring caused a fire that permanently ousted the Parkers from the Richmond home where they had lived for 24 years.

Then in September 2019, their 16-year-old daughter became collateral damage in a gang-related shooting after a Friday night high school football game she attended with a group of friends. Three teens were struck, but Ashley was by far the worst off: The bullet that lodged near her spine left doctors fearing brain damage from loss of oxygen as they worked to keep her alive.

Ashley Parker listens to her sister Melissa retell the story of a shooting that paralyzed Ashley as they sit in the family’s backyard in El Sobrante, Calif., on Thursday, October 28, 2021. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County has helped the family through devastating hardships by providing food and other types of support. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group) 

She survived but left the hospital 15 weeks later in a wheelchair, permanently paralyzed from the chest down.

And in late March, 59-year-old Theresa Parker suffered a brain aneurysm while working as a caretaker in a patient’s home. Surgery and seizure medications followed, along with three more visits to the emergency room.

She lost 32 lbs. during that setback and only now is slowly regaining that weight, all the while battling depression. But Theresa still clings to her Christian faith, and gratitude leaves no room for self-pity or anger.

“We’re still alive. We’re okay,” she said. “God is taking care of me, of my family. (He) said ‘I will not give you anything you can’t handle.’ ”

Rich Parker, 54, also is hanging on; he says he draws strength from listening to worship music. “I’m really trying hard to stay faithful,” he said.

Money is tight with the $15 hourly wages that he and his wife earn, but the family has found help with its food bills from St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County.

After spotting a food giveaway that the nonprofit had organized at St. Callistus Church in El Sobrante, where the family now lives, Theresa Parker became a regular visitor and since December has been collecting four to six bags of groceries a week, according to volunteers.

Brian Boyle (left), a communications and development associate with The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County, hands food to Melissa Parker (right) in El Sobrante on October 28, 2021. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group) 

She also has received a winter coat at no cost through one of the organization’s nonprofit partners.

What’s more, the nonprofit is willing to subsidize the family’s $2,500 monthly rent just as it has done for many others around Contra Costa County.

St. Vincent de Paul received funding this year from Share the Spirit, an annual holiday campaign that serves residents in need in the East Bay. Donations to the program helped support 56 nonprofit agencies in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The organization will use its grant to buy $15,000 in $50 Winco gift cards, which it will include in the 300 bags of groceries it plans to give away over the holidays to approximately 1,200 people. Those staples for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals are in addition to the usual emergency food supplies.

Founded in 1964, St. Vincent de Paul tackles human need on multiple fronts, serving as a temporary safety net for people struggling with hunger, homelessness, unemployment and lack of health care.

Although based in Pittsburg, its outreach is much broader, with 752 volunteers who staff 29 branches that operate almost exclusively at Catholic church sites.

“They’re really the boots on the ground,” said Executive Director Claudia Ramirez.

Eighteen of these outposts run food pantries once or twice a week, and all of them issue vouchers that can be redeemed for clothes and furniture at one of St. Vincent de Paul’s three thrift stores. The organization also covers or subsidizes clients’ utilities bills and will pay for car registration fees, insurance and repairs.

“That can make a huge difference to somebody,” said Ramirez, noting that individuals might not be able to get to work without a vehicle that runs.

Agency volunteers also make home visits to learn more about the family’s financial situation and develop ways to help in the short and long term.

For example, an outreach team might discover that a family who’s having trouble paying the rent is compounding its problems by resorting to high-interest payday loans to cover an unforeseen expense. Armed with that knowledge, they can help the family by both settling their debt as well as working with them to budget their income more effectively in the future.

St. Vincent de Paul also teams up with other nonprofits to provide services such as meals, emergency shelter and free dental services from its Family Resource Center in Pittsburg.

Theresa Parker hugs Brian Boyle (Right) in the Parker family’s backyard in El Sobrante. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group) 

According to its most recent annual report, the organization in 2019-20 provided an estimated 50,000 hot meals in its dining room, gave away tons of groceries, treated 670 uninsured patients for free at the medical clinic it opened a decade ago, donated four cars to families, helped about 1,800 people with housing in the form of rent subsidies, and equipped 24 people with job-search skills through its nearly six-month training program that includes part-time work.

Sometimes the care that St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County provides can turn someone’s life around.

Ramirez recalls the homeless woman who enrolled in its workforce development program several years ago. Not only did the client land a job, but she eventually bought a house in the Central Valley.

“It means that what we do here makes a difference,” Ramirez said. “It can change a life.”

How to help

Donations will allow St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County, (SVdP), to brighten the holidays for low-income residents of East County. Their food-gift card distribution program at Thanksgiving and Christmas would serve 300 families-over or 1,200 individuals.

Goal: $15,000

Note: This story was fulfilled, but you can still donate to the general fund

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