A Conversation with Patty Christopher, ’14-21 JV EnCorps Community Lead, Bend, Oregon
Tell us about how you serve.
I am the board president of St. Vincent DePaul in Bend and the Bend JV EnCorps Community Lead.
During COVID, St. Vincent here in Bend never shut down, but we have changed our operations to protect our community. I volunteer in-person at the food pantry on Wednesdays. We have a Food Pantry, prescription help, help with IDs, and our low-income housing in our old fishing-cabin apartments. Then, because the city of Bend changed some of their regulations during the pandemic, we’re creating a micro-village on our St. Vincent property to include about 10 small units to give shelter to people who are houseless.
In the last few months, we have been seeing an increase in how many people are coming to us who are now experiencing homelessness, most living in tents. Because people supported us with their stimulus money, we have been able to provide motel stays, first month’s rents, propane, and utility assistance, especially now that the moratoriums on evictions and waivers are coming to an end. We also have had to modify our clothing program since people can’t come inside; we ask what they’d like and give them some options, plus we provide a voucher to a thrift store.
How many people does St. Vincent Serve?
In October, we gave out 488 food boxes and 436 sack lunches, which amounts to 19,560 meals. This month (November), it’ll be at least that much plus our Thanksgiving boxes. We have seen a 30 percent increase in first-time clients, and an increase of about six to seven percent of our community experiencing food insecurity this year.
Tell us about the Bend JV EnCorps community, for which you’ve been the Lead since its inception in 2014.
We have 18 JV EnCorps members in Bend. At least a third of those serve with people who are experiencing homelessness, and four of us also serve with active food pantries: St. Vincent de Paul here in Bend, St. Vincent de Paul in Redmond, St. Vincent de Paul in Prineville, and The Giving Plate here in Bend. Many of our members also serve with medical and housing needs. All those places are finding ways to protect their volunteers. A few of our Bend JV EnCorps community members are also doing what they can remotely.
You do a whole lot as a volunteer; what do you find helpful about being a JV EnCorps member?
When I first retired, I tried to find the way to fit in. What I like about the JV EnCorps program is it helps with retention. For example, with COVID, being part of a volunteer organization helps with burnout and it’s a place to go to share stories of being a volunteer. When I hear those stories, I think, “I need to be giving back to my community.”
And also, the spiritual community is important. In our last meeting, we talked about that Matthew 25 passage [“I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” – New American Bible, Matthew 25:43]. We also talked about a Richard Rohr homily. We talked about how the Bible passage is such as great reminder how serving with others is not about us being Christ to them; they are being Christ to us. We have struggled with the pandemic and Zoom, but we’ve been lucky that we have had good attendance for our first three months. We have focused on social and ecological justice by inviting in speakers to our meetings. We’ve had a speaker talk about the prison system, one from the Rural Organizing Project, and another on ecological and Indigenous justice, which is right here for us in Warm Springs. We’ve discussed how our speakers have been modern day mystics and accidental saints, in that they serve the poor, the imprisoned, and nature. We discussed the question of how does our spirit inform our actions and how do our actions inform our spiritual lives?
JV EnCorps is a natural extension of our spiritual lives because the core values [community, simple living, social and ecological justice and spirituality/reflection] are Gospel values. Our JV EnCorps community is very interfaith and ecumenical, and we attract volunteers who see Christ in all faiths, no matter their background.