10 Questions With Shannon Clancy

Posted By on May 7, 2020

Associate executive director of St. Vincent de Paul

1. St. Vincent de Paul provides comprehensive services. Can you describe its operations around the Valley?

St. Vincent de Paul works to feed, clothe, house and heal people in need across the Valley while providing community members the opportunity to serve. We offer direct support services to homeless and low-income individuals and families through personal, meaningful interactions that recognize the dignity and value of each person.

Our service programs include five charity dining rooms; a neighborhood network of more than 80 food pantries; a resource center for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness that includes rent and utility assistance; transitional housing for veterans and older adults; medical and dental care for uninsured patients; three urban farms that grow fresh produce as a sustainable food source for our dining rooms; and community thrift stores.

To accomplish all of this, we work with thousands of volunteers each year, who we connect with service opportunities that bring joy and purpose while uplifting the community.

2. How many people do you serve in a typical day, and how has that number changed since the COVID-19 crisis hit?

We serve thousands of people every day across our programs, particularly through the meals we serve in our charity dining rooms and the home visits and food box deliveries that our volunteers make in neighborhoods across central and northern Arizona.

We are definitely seeing increased need since the crisis began. Our community food pantries are receiving more requests for food support, and we’ve started to send extra food allotments in advance of their regular supply. One month’s worth of food has nearly doubled to keep up with the increased demand.

We are also seeing increased requests for rent and utility assistance as families struggle to pay bills after losing their jobs or facing decreased work hours. While our state’s eviction moratorium is important, as it keeps people in their homes during this health crisis, they still owe those payments and will need additional support over the summer months to prevent homelessness in the near future.

3. What additional services are you managing these days?

We provide critical support and services to those in our community who have nowhere else to turn for help. So it isn’t that the COVID-19 outbreak has called for us to add services as much as it has called on us to continue the work we do in the face of all of the challenges this pandemic has presented. This unprecedented emergency requires a significant shift in our service model from “social embracing” through face-to-face assistance to “social distancing,” where we continue to meet basic needs while also protecting the health of our guests, volunteers, staff and the collective community. 

We are highly aware that we must work hard to protect those experiencing homelessness from the spread of the coronavirus, as they are vulnerable in their inability to isolate without a home. 

Currently, we are offering to-go, pre-packaged meals at our dining rooms; take-home activity kits for children through our educational program for at-risk youth; fresh produce from our farms to supplement take-home meals; telemedicine out of our medical clinic; utility and rent assistance to prevent homelessness; hygiene items/food/counseling for those experiencing homelessness; and transitional shelter for veterans, disabled and/or older adults.

4. How many volunteers and providers does it take to cook all of the meals, and how does it go out?

Typically thousands of volunteers would help us in our kitchen each year, but we have asked them to remain home for their health and safety and the health and safety of the community. Currently, frontline staff and redeployed staff rotate through shifts to prepare the thousands of “to-go” meals we serve out of our dining rooms each day.

We’re grateful to our local restaurant partners, from whom we purchase thousands of pre-packaged meals each week to feed our food-insecure guests. These partnerships have been a win-win. They help keep St. Vincent de Paul’s to-go meal model viable so we can continue providing meals to people who need them while also supporting local businesses and their employees during a difficult time.

5. St. Vincent de Paul has an army of devoted volunteers. How has your volunteer pool been affected?

Because of social distancing, stay-at-home policies and our need to keep our volunteers, staff and guests safe, we have asked all of our volunteers to stay home for now. This has been very difficult for all of us, as our typical model seeks to embrace and involve people at scale.

Yet, we have been so grateful for the response from our community to help through their financial and in-kind donations, their purchase of much-needed items off of our Amazon Wishlist and their participation in the “Helping from Home” volunteer activities, such as making cloth face masks for our staff, shelter residents and guests experiencing homelessness or creating “blessing cards” to place into the sack lunches that we distribute to our dining rooms.

6. Can you talk about the changes you’ve incorporated to keep families fed?

St. Vincent de Paul normally invites all of our guests into our dining rooms to eat together as members of our extended family. During this crisis, we have pivoted our model to provide pre-packaged, to-go meals for our guests that are picked up outside of our dining rooms. For dining rooms that primarily serve individuals, they receive a restaurant entrée and a sack lunch with a sandwich, snacks, water and a blessing card from our “Helping from Home” volunteers.

In our family dining room, families come to our “drive-through window” and receive dinner entrées for their family, a bag of healthy produce harvested from our urban farms for meals at home, and activity kits for their children from our Dream Center educational program. On Easter, they even received Easter baskets and a drive-through visit with the Easter Bunny!

7. When people think about services at St. Vincent de Paul, many don’t think about medical and dental. How have they been affected?

Like most non-emergency healthcare providers, our Virginia G. Piper Medical & Dental Clinic has seen a complete shift in how they are able to care for patients during this time.

Our medical clinic and family wellness diabetes prevention program continue to provide services through telehealth visits and classes to support patients’ needs and help them to stay as healthy as possible during this crisis. They can use video check-ins and phone calls to ensure that patients continue to have access to medical care, prescription refills, doctor expertise, nutrition advice and overall wellness guidance. This fulfills an additional goal of decreasing emergency department usage and avoiding the emergency response system while these patients are in our care.

Our dental clinic is available for emergency patients on an as-needed basis. When there isn’t a dental emergency, you can find the majority of our dental staff redeployed to other programs that allow us to continue to serve.

8. St. Vincent de Paul provides hope and connection, not only for the people it serves but for the people who work and volunteer there. How are you all staying connected these days?

There’s no need for social distancing to put a kink in community connection and hope. That’s why we are inviting the St. Vincent de Paul family and the larger community to go ALL IN with us on spreading kindness and generosity to others, especially during this time. So whether that’s joining our “Helping from Home” efforts to stay connected through volunteerism or practicing a bit of community kindness and then sharing what you did on social media using the #AllinThisTogether and #MakeKindnessViral hashtags, we’re making sure that the St. Vincent de Paul culture of care and compassion continues to connect and inspire us, now more than ever.

9. What’s the biggest lesson this crisis has taught you?

I continue to be inspired by the resiliency of the human spirit and the depth of compassion, care and generosity that our community shares. We are at our very best when we choose kindness and love over fear and embrace generosity over scarcity. During this crisis, we are inspired and strengthened by a generous, loving community at its very best when caring for one another.

On that note, one additional thought lingers in my mind. The coming summer months will prove even more difficult for the vulnerable people we serve. The coronavirus will provide the “perfect storm” to our annual emergency summer relief efforts, when our food pantry stores are low, the heat is high, and so many people in our community continue to struggle.

As things go back to the new normal, whatever that will look like, please keep them in mind and in your heart. Start a food drive in your neighborhood. Organize a water drive at your workplace. As always, St. Vincent de Paul will be there to support them, and with your continued help, we will all get through this difficult time together.

10. What are you personally doing to get through these days?

It’s a gift to serve alongside a truly dedicated staff and community. Our employees’ commitment to their work, putting their own health at risk in service to others, continues to inspire me daily. Equally inspiring is the tremendous generosity of our community that reaches down deep to care for others even in these uncertain times.

I remind myself to focus of the concrete things that can be done — supporting our frontline staff, continuing to feed families, offering a bit of relief and hope to those who need it. I am filled with gratitude at the opportunity to be part of this special St. Vincent de Paul extended family of people who care.

To help these efforts, I encourage everyone to be ALL IN to spread kindness across our community, whether that’s a small act of generosity toward a neighbor in need or offering your dollars to help St. Vincent de Paul continue providing critical services to the most vulnerable in our community.

            Imagine a community empowered by kindness — one where we call an elderly neighbor, leave a carton of eggs for the next shopper, share a smile as we pass each other at a distance, or offer a bit of our surplus to someone living with less. Now, more than ever, let’s be ALL IN on kindness and ALL IN to support each other.

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