The cold and continuing snow accumulations of the past week in parts of Western Washington have increased the demand for day and overnight shelter, and caused some parishes and schools to cancel activities, classes and even Sunday Masses.
In addition, the food bank and five thrift stores operated by St. Vincent de Paul of Seattle/King County were closed February 11, but were expected to open February 12.
Some of the staffers at shelters operated by Catholic Community Services of Western Washington have been working 24-hour periods or more since the wintry weather began, said Bill Hallerman, King County agency director for CCS.
“They’ve just done an amazing job,” he said.
In Kent and Renton, severe weather shelters — staffed by CCS — were activated the week of February 4, Hallerman said. The night of February 10, the shelters were filled, with 80 people in Kent and 40 in Renton. “A lot of those folks are folks that would stay outside” normally, Hallerman said.
In Kirkland, the New Bethlehem Day Center for families has also become an overnight shelter, so that families and staff don’t have to shuttle between the day center and the overnight shelter in bad weather, as they did last week, he said.
At the St. Martin de Porres shelter in Seattle, the 30 to 40 men who would be taken to overflow accommodations at nearby parishes are now sleeping on extra mats at the shelter. “A lot of the churches canceled because of transportation,” Hallerman said, noting that many use vans to shuttle their overnight guests to and from the parish.
The Lazarus Center in Seattle also has overnight accommodations and extra mats for the increased demand, he said.
One challenge is that staff members often live far from their jobs. “When the snow hits and the buses stop running it’s really hard to get staff there,” Hallerman said. So CCS has put some staff members up in hotels. Another challenge is how long this event is lasting, he added.
The shelters also rely on donated meals from volunteers at parishes and organizations, although they do have a food supply available for emergencies, Hallerman said. But volunteers have been great, bringing blankets and more food. Those who can’t get there through the snow seem to be replaced by someone who happens to have a 4-wheel-drive and wants to help, he noted.
“The volunteers always kind of step up at these moments,” Hallerman said.
Some Masses, activities canceled
Around the archdiocese the weekend of February 9-10, some parishes canceled Masses and activities, while others carried on with weekend Masses, but told parishioners not to come if they didn’t feel safe. Parishes are posting updates on their websites, Facebook pages or parish apps to keep parishioners up to date on closures and cancellations this week.
After some 8 inches of snow fell in downtown Camas, St. Thomas Aquinas Parish canceled all Masses and parish activities. One parishioner didn’t discover the closure until arriving at church and seeing a note posted on the church door, said Janet Cleaveland, a writer for Northwest Catholic.
Vancouver-area parishes had weekend Masses but canceled other activities, such as the sweetheart dinner and the Knights of Columbus breakfast at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Cleaveland reported. And the regular Sunday afternoon Vietnamese Mass at the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater (Cleaveland’s parish) had to be canceled, she said.
At the northern end of the archdiocese, there was little snow in Bellingham, so Masses went on as usual over the weekend, reported parishioner Mary Louise Van Dyke, a Northwest Catholic writer.
In Seattle, Assumption Parish canceled all Masses over the weekend, posting a message on its website asking parishioners to “please be safe and check on your neighbors who may need some assistance.”
In Sequim, where reports say 2 feet of snow fell in the downtown area, St. Joseph Parish was planning daily Mass February 11, according to a weather update posted on the website of Queen of Angels Parish, Port Angeles/St. Joseph, Sequim. The parish offices and Queen of Angels School were closed, however, and all activities were canceled.
In Enumclaw, the Saturday evening Mass at Sacred Heart Parish was canceled and Sunday morning Mass “was very lightly attended,” said Mathew Weisbeck, pastoral associate. “The roads were very slippery and there were snow drifts all over town and so it was hard for people to get to the church,” he said. Slippery sidewalks led Sacred Heart’s priest administrator, Father Anthony K.A. Davis, to cancel weekday Masses, Weisbeck said. “He is worried about people falling.”
An email to parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Federal Way dispensed the Sunday obligation for “those who cannot safely travel to the church.” And, the email noted, “There are no ‘snow days’ for our bills or the needs of the poor so please get your Sunday donation to the parish when you are able.”
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