Agency History – Spotlight on the Kids Closet

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In honor of Samaritan House’s 40th Anniversary in 2014, we take a look back at the people who helped make our role as a leading social service agency in the county possible. A special thank you to Monica MacMillan, our new communications volunteer, for contributing the following blog post.

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Since 1985, Samaritan House has distributed clothing to those in need as part of its goal to provide essential services to the members of San Mateo County. When Samaritan House moved to a new location in 2009, the clothing distribution center needed to condense itself into a much smaller space. After polling its clients and receiving feedback, Samaritan House determined that the primary need was children’s clothing. Two volunteers, Cathy Brown and Ally Nushy-Lenat, took charge of setting up the new distribution center, which was renamed the Kids Closet.

Kids Closet volunteers, Ally Nushy-Lenat & Cathy Brown

“At that time, it was just an empty room,” says Cathy. Together, Cathy and Ally sourced clothing racks, storage shelves, bins, and hangers, and set up new procedures for how to accept clothing donations. They also put the word out to church groups and other community organizations. Today, members of the community donate approximately 2,000 pieces of children’s clothing per year to the Kids Closet. Dozens of volunteers offer hundreds of hours of their time to collect, sort, and distribute the items to Samaritan House clients, with whom they are shared free-of-charge.

Through their case managers, clients receive monthly clothing vouchers that entitle each child to receive 5 tops, 2 pairs of pants, 1 dress or skirt, 1 jacket, 1 sweatshirt, 1 pair of pajamas, and 1 pair of shoes. Baby clothes and accessories are unlimited. But there is something else being offered at the Kids Closet that is harder to define, more intangible, than just clothing. Volunteers strive to offer a pleasant and positive shopping experience, and perhaps even a self-esteem boost. sign

“[We try to make the center feel] as much like a store as possible,” Cathy states. Volunteers greet the clients warmly as they come in, and let the clients know that they are there to help. If a client is looking for a particular item that is not out on the floor, volunteers will check the stock room. Those volunteers with retail experience are happy to offer advice about silhouettes or trends if asked. “We’re very conversational with people [as they shop] and complimentary about their selections,” says Cathy. Gaby Korn, one of the original Kids Closet volunteers, echoes these sentiments. “I try to make the clothes look as close to brand new as possible.” Volunteers are sensitive to the fact that “how one looks to one’s peers is very important” and they “don’t put anything out on the floor that is not in good condition,” Cathy says.

The physical space is airy and bright, with lots of natural light. Families often come together to the center to shop, and there is a children’s play area in one corner with toys, books, and beanbag chairs for the littlest shoppers. “One of the ways parents nurture their children is by taking care of their children’s clothing,” says Cathy, who has a background in early childhood education. The Kids Closet is happy to facilitate this very important bond between parent and child.

Donations of children’s clothing are always welcome (see our Wishlist for a list of our current needs). Contact us at (650) 341-4081 or email info@samaritanhousesanmateo.org for more information.

Monica MacMillan, Samaritan House volunteer

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Emergency rental & deposit assistance helps move San Mateo couple into a new home

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Every month, our client service department helps provide emergency rental assistance to help 23 low-income individuals and families experiencing financial hardship maintain a stable living situation. Last month, our client service and finance department staff went above and beyond to ensure that a client was able to pay the deposit and 1st month’s rent for a new, more affordable apartment just 2 days before her move-in date.

“My partner and I are both people living with disabilities, specifically wheelchair users, and we are on a fixed income. We both work very hard to make ends meet every month…” reports Ligia. When the opportunity arose to move into a Below Market Rate (BMR) apartment nearby, she turned to Samaritan House for help. “[Our case manager] Christiana Weidanz worked hard to make sure that our new property had a check that same Friday. Everything worked out wonderfully! We moved in, they received their deposit and first month rent, and now we can finally breathe.”

BMR Availability

Many Americans struggle to afford a decent, safe place to live in today’s market – especially in Silicon Valley. According to the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank that researches the topic of housing affordability and homelessness, “For every 100 extremely low-income renter households, there are only 19 affordable and available rental units in San Mateo County.” In addition, over the past 5 years, average rental prices in the area have skyrocketed while the number of renters who need moderately priced housing has increased.

These pressures make finding affordable housing even tougher for low-income households in San Mateo County, and make the need for Samaritan House’s safety-net services and emergency assistance programs a precious resource for families in our community.

In a thank you note to our client service department, our client Ligia expressed her appreciation for having this rental assistance service to help out during her time of need: “This all could not have been possible without Christiana being so proactive, understanding, and compassionate. We are so grateful for her assistance, and the assistance we received from Samaritan House.”

Asha’s Story: “Samaritan House was the lifeboat that saved me”

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Asha * never envisioned being on public assistance and seeking help for her family prior to coming through the doors of Samaritan House. Everything changed for her last year when, at the age of 58, she was laid-off from the banking job she had had for over a decade.

Residents of the Peninsula for almost 30 years, Asha and her husband immigrated to the U.S. from India in the 1980s. After a series of unforeseen circumstances, suddenly her family was faced with the decision of whether or not they could afford to keep living in the area that had called home for so many years.

“It was like being in an avalanche happening in slow motion,” Asha explains of the financial situation that she and her family found themselves in just a few months ago. Her husband experienced a back injury many years ago which rendered him unable to work, and he does not qualify for disability. Her daughter, who just graduated from college in India and moved back to the U.S. to live with her parents, is also struggling to find employment in a challenging job market for new grads. Asha was receiving unemployment and continuing to look for work when both she and her husband suffered health issues, which saddled them with medical debt.

Asha was always an exemplary employee, and before being let go of her previous job, she received several awards from her work for outstanding performance and sales. After she was laid off, she found herself struggling to find another job in the banking industry, despite her years of experience. Asha feels her age was held against her in many situations, and she became discouraged and very depressed.

“There were nights where I lay awake until 3 in the morning, going over in my head bills that were due and trying to figure out how we were going to make it through to the next month,” Asha recalls. Then, for the first time in their lives, she and her husband were late paying their rent. Having no family to turn to for assistance and having exhausted their resources, a friend mentioned that they should visit Samaritan House to look for help.

Asha came to Samaritan House reaching for a lifeline to get them through a troubled time. “The first time I met with my case manager, Julio, I was going through the worst time in my life,” Asha explains. “During our first meeting, Julio talked to me and put me at ease. I was no longer filled with dread, and I found myself feeling hopeful for the first time in months.” After Julio evaluated her case and assessed her income and expenses, Asha was given rental assistance and vouchers for Samaritan House’s food pantry for the next two months to help stabilize her family’s financial situation.

She and her husband also gave up their car several years ago to cut costs, but this left Asha relying on public transportation to get to and from job interviews. Unable to afford this expense, her case manager was also able to provide Asha with bus passes, which Asha said was invaluable in helping her find her current job.

Things are much brighter now for Asha, and she is proud to report that she received a job offer and began working as a customer service representative at a local bank in April. She and her husband continue to pay-off medical debt and look for ways to improve their financial situation, but she talks of feeling far more optimistic about their future and their ability to stay in the area, which they have called home for so long.

Asha feels an undying gratitude for everything that Samaritan House provided her family during the most challenging time of their lives. As Asha states, more than just the tangible support from Samaritan House, the kind and supportive words and listening ear from her case manager Julio touched her heart and gave her hope.

In the future, Asha says she would like to be able to give back to Samaritan House by volunteering there. “I always tell people that one day I want to be able to become a major donor! I can’t thank them enough for all they did for us.” As Asha explains, “…at the time, I felt like we were surrounded by sharks. Samaritan House was the lifeboat that helped save me and my family.”

*At the request of our client, the above name has been changed in order to maintain confidentiality.

Helping families. One client at a time.

“There is no greater joy, nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone’s life.” Mary Rose McGeady, philanthropist

In this short video created for our food service program, Samaritan House’s client service supervisor Robyn Fischer shares her insights on why our food assistance program is such an important asset to our low-income client families.

During the month of June, our client service department had over 600 client visits. Clients who visited our office we helped through the diverse range of services we offer to help eligible families. Our client service staff are trained to evaluate each individual or family to properly assess their needs, connect them with the resources they need, and help them develop a long-term plan towards self-sufficiency. Individuals in need are provided with important resources – like food and clothing vouchers, and rental assistance – and referrals to other local agencies.

It is this care and concern for each of our clients that makes Samaritan House and all our case managers such an incredible resource to our community. If you are in need of assistance, please contact us to see how we can help.

Financial empowerment classes in action

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A great picture of one of our financial empowerment clients taken last week after she opened her first credit union account!

Samaritan House is now offering one-on-one financial coaching classes to help our clients learn about ways to minimize debt, build savings, & improve credit scores. We will provide opportunities for clients (and low income staff) to obtain pro-bono, one-on-one financial coaching through Sage Financial Solutions & our in- house Financial Empowerment Coach.

Our goal is to help navigate our Samaritan House clients:

  • Feel self-empowerment & self-directed
  • Live poverty-free and equip them with financial knowledge and tools
  • Create long-term, financially responsible habits – coaching will create this foundation to coach the person not the issue
  • Empower client to build personal and financial goals while holding them accountable

This is just one of the ways Samaritan House is working to help families build their level of self-sufficiency & build brighter futures!