When a family needed a stair lift for an 11-year-old paralyzed girl, St. Anthony Parish in White River Junction with the help of other organizations met that need.

The help was made possible through the parish Assistance Fund which, through an application process, fills a variety of needs for those who are struggling, including help for rent, car repairs, utilities, and, sometimes, drug or alcohol rehabilitation.

“This financial assistance is made possible by our very generous parishioners,” said Father Charles Danielson, pastor, noting that the parish also supports the Food Shelf at Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction with a weekly collection.

St. Anthony Parish has a long-running connection to Haven as it was among an ecumenical group of churches invited to assist Haven’s original founders before the agency opened its doors in 1981 to provide temporary shelter and educational programming for homeless families and adults as well as food for anyone in need.

Deacon John Guarino, who has overseen the parish Assistance Fund since 2015, explained that parishioners fill baskets that are always accessible in the church. “Last year, we donated 1,100 pounds of food through the baskets alone,” said Deacon Guarino, who is a life-long member of the parish and has served as deacon there since his ordination in 1983.

Since 2015 the parish has provided an estimated $13,000 in financial assistance to those in need through its Assistance Fund.

The application, Deacon Guarino explained, is similar to one used by Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. “We don’t approve all requests,” he said, noting that the decision is based on many factors including consultation with other organizations or individuals to help determine eligibility and need.

“We work with other organizations to ensure there is no duplication of benefits but also to look for other places to help completely fulfill the need,” he said. Some of those places, like Haven, crisis pregnancy centers and Listen Community Services, may receive donations from the parish when the Assistance Fund has additional monies.

Deacon Guarino explained that there is a seasonal fluctuation for need, with back-to-school time especially challenging for parents who are already stretched but need to buy new clothes and school supplies for their children.

To ease that need, the parish also works with the Vermont Department of Children and Families with a drive for school supplies for foster children. This same group of children is also the recipient at Christmas when parishioners take tags off the parish Christmas tree and fill the gift requests written on them.

“We believe as Catholic Christians that it is part of our vocation to help care for those in our community who are in need,” Deacon Guarino said. “At St. Anthony Parish, we often have opportunities to help meet at least some of those needs with resources provided through the generosity of our parishioners. These opportunities include helping not only those coming directly to the parish seeking financial assistance for a variety of reasons but also joining with other groups and agencies in the community to respond to specific projects and to coordinate efforts in order to best use the resources we have.”

—Originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.