St. Vincent grants support children

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Sleep in Heavenly Peace-Muscatine volunteers build beds for local children in need Oct. 19. The organization is one of 18 St. Vincent Center Home Corporation grant recipients this year.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Volunteers in Muscatine are working to ensure every child in their community has a cozy bed to sleep in. The need is “very large,” said Sarah Walsh, co-president of Sleep in Heavenly Peace’s Muscatine chapter. “We have had over 150 applications for beds since mid-June when our application portal opened,” including from zip codes the new organization is not yet equipped to serve.

Sleep in Heavenly Peace estimates that 2-3% of youths nationwide sleep on the floor. Walsh believes that number is higher in Muscatine. “We know from other services in town, such as Muscatine Center for Social Action, that beds are one of the most requested items from families and also one of the most difficult items to fulfill for these organizations,” Walsh said.

Her group has built and delivered 130 beds to date and a $3,000 grant from the St. Vincent Center Home Corporation of the Davenport Diocese will help more children rest comfortably at night. “We are so incredibly grateful and excited,” Walsh said.

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Father Isaac Doucette, parochial vicar of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, encouraged Sleep in Heavenly Peace-Muscatine to apply for a grant, offered annually to organizations that focus on providing for the general care of and assistance to children in need. “The response of the local community inspired me,” he said. “There has been strong support from the parish and community at large helping with builds or donations. It is about loving others and living out the faith.”

Discovering the need that exists in the Davenport Diocese was eye opening for Father Doucette, a new member of St. Vincent’s grant board. This year, St. Vincent is distributing $67,269 among 18 organizations, with funds coming from investment income.  Father Doucette is among the priests, deacons, religious sisters and laypersons on the board who vet and evaluate applicants with oversight from the Social Action office.

Projects or activities seeking funds must conform to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. Organizations that work with children also must document their efforts to perform background checks of employees and volunteers who work or have direct contact with children. Grant money cannot go towards salaries.

From the late 1800s through the early 1970s, St. Vincent Home provided on-site care to children. The focus shifted to the grant program 50 years ago. “I see it as a good way for community efforts to be supported by the diocese,” said Deacon Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action.

Word of mouth is essential to inform organizations of the grant opportunities. “Locally involved parishioners with knowledge of local needs enable us to have reach,” Deacon Ferris said. Organizations that serve children in southeast Iowa are eligible for grants, even if their headquarters are outside diocesan boundaries.

Grant recipients are diverse in the way they support children, Deacon Ferris said. Emma Cornelis Hospitality House (ECHH) in Fort Madison functions primarily as a homeless shelter but also offers housing to out-of-town families who cannot afford to stay in a hotel while visiting an inmate at Iowa State Penitentiary. Space permitting, families who call ahead can stay at the hospitality house for $10 a night, including meals.

“We have been receiving grants from the St. Vincent Corp since at least 2009, maybe longer,” said ECHH board member Janet Austin. It is rewarding to “assist vulnerable people in our society by giving them compassionate care in the form of shelter, food and clothing in their time of need.”

Family Resources in Davenport will receive $5,000 to provide Christmas gifts to children it serves, many of whom have experienced trauma. Each year, community members adopt families and purchase items from their wish lists, including beds, new tires, pajamas, books, diapers, clothes and toys. St. Vincent grants help to ensure no one is left behind. Last year, Family Resources provided gifts to 901 individuals, 775 of whom are children. “Providing gifts to the children allows them to feel the joy and excitement and have the opportunity to experience opening presents on Christmas day,” said Ashley Schwalm, chief operating officer. “We are grateful for the support the St. Vincent grant provides to the clients and communities we serve.”


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