The Church of Our Savior, Placerville

Creating a new way to serve veterans

by The Rev. Dr. Christine Leigh-Taylor

 

Your gift to ECS is at work in the Warren Dunning Grant. The Church of our Saviour, Placerville, has used the grant as seed money for support of veterans. Here is what they have to say about their program.

Several parishioners at Church of Our Saviour, had long been interested in the well-being of veterans. Collaborating with some community contacts they conceived of creating a permanent Stand Down (usually only a weekend resource fair) in El Dorado County. Church of Our Saviour applied for the first-ever Warren Dunning Social Justice grant in spring 2017 to get this effort started.

The Dunning Grant was the initial funding for El Dorado Veteran Resources (EDVR), which opened on Veterans Day (November 11) that year. Ever since, it has been open weekdays and staffed entirely by unpaid volunteers – some of them veterans themselves, most of them veteran family members. The grant money has been spent on direct veteran expenses.

EDVR became a program of Military Family Support Group (MFSG), a local 501(c)(3) established in 2005, which offered an umbrella for applying for grants and accounting for expenditures without building a new infrastructure. El Dorado County provided EDVR a rent-free office with internet and phone in the Veterans Memorial Building in Placerville. Our office is adjacent to the county Department of Veteran Affairs, and the on-going collaboration with this county office has been unprecedented in California! If a client lacks veteran ID, we refer them to the Veterans’ Affairs Office, and that office, in turn, refers clients to us for emergency assistance. They also take veterans down to our pantry if our office is closed.

Everything we do is in partnership with some community group. One veterans’ service organization provides $2500/year for bus passes; another gives $400 for food/gas gift cards; the county Veterans Commission provides $8,000/year from the Transient Occupancy Tax to cover basic MFSG operating expenses, such as insurance, printing and office supplies. We have also received commendations from the county Board of Supervisors. A couple of veterans’ auxiliaries, and the local DAR have donated heavy jackets, sleeping bags, duffels and tents. A local auto dealer (Thompsons’) donated a late model van, which our transportation team uses heavily to transport veterans to medical appointments around and beyond the county. By end of May 2020 our transportation team (17 drivers over time) had provided more than 560 rides, for a total of 36,071 miles and 1568 hours since the inception of EDVR. It costs a lot of money to insure, maintain and gas up the van. Some of that funding has come from a women’s golf tournament put on for two years at a local course. We received $8,000 grants from the Women’s Fund of El Dorado Community Foundation in 2018, and 2020, plus an emergency grant of $4100 for pandemic-related services. We used this last grant to buy food for our weekly food giveaway this past spring. We also work with the El Dorado Sheriff’s Office Homeless Outreach Team (we help with furnishings when a homeless veteran is ready to settle down).

EDVR currently has about 20 active volunteers, most from the community. This ministry is highlighted frequently in our sermons, prayers and reports. Early on a church volunteer set up a database for us to track services and clients. Our Saviour parishioners, though of different political viewpoints, have come to respect it as a parish ministry. In Fall 2019 the Vestry decided, on its own, to do a special outreach request at both services, with the proceeds to be divided half to veterans’ ministry and half to the rector’s discretionary fund. The total amount collected was $2100.

We have served 750 unduplicated veterans! Key to all our services is listening with respect. We have had only a few “challenging” clients, and we sometimes need to tell them that they have exhausted use of our services.

Gov. Newsom’s March 2020 shelter-in-place order caused us to shut our EDVR office in compliance. After a month, EDVR leaders realized that people were still in need, and we began a food give-away to veterans every Wednesday afternoon. In the first four weeks of this impromptu program we served 75 veterans and family members with 2580 pounds of food! We did this for nine weeks. One of our volunteers purchased and picked up the food from the Placer Food Bank in Roseville each Wednesday. All the volunteers wore masks. We did intake at tables outside, asked to see veteran ID, then asked our clients to fill a short form, so we could track how and who we served, and then their food order form, which showed how many persons were in their household. We encouraged social distancing as clients waited outside, often on very hot days (we put chairs out under awnings).

Typically, we had five or six people inside packing up the food according to the client’s wishes. Many new volunteers pitched in. Most veterans told us it was a big financial help, because food has become more expensive during the pandemic. One man in his 70’s told me his wife is so concerned about the pandemic that the only places she will allow him to go are to the chiropractor’s office and our weekly food give-away. Another man would come an hour early to help us unload the van with the fresh supplies

We’ve learned a lot over these three years. Early on we gave out $25 gift cards (redeemable for food or gas at Safeway) to any veteran who came in expressing need. We soon discovered two downsides: the freebie cards encouraged dependence, and they could be traded for drugs.

During the extended pandemic, our walk-in office is open four days a week for limited hours, but we still get plenty of customers. We continue to refer to other agencies for help with bigger ticket items. We are adapting to new social rules, but the old needs have not gone away. Thank you ECS. YOU helped make this happen!

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