Roché Vermaak believes people are good. As executive director of Family Promise of the Santa Clarita Valley, he sees people doing good all the time, and he derives tremendous satisfaction in contributing to the good.
He will see all the good on display Dec. 15 at the Valencia United Methodist Church when his organization, dedicated to helping homeless families, will put on its second annual holiday shopping event. More than 400 homeless people, up from 174 last year, are expected to come to this event and shop for free for needed items such as toilet paper, cleaning supplies, diapers, soap, shampoo, canned food and clothing as well as gifts, toys and gift cards.
But for this event to be as successful as last year’s, the community has to come together and help so everybody can have a joyous holiday.
The holidays are a time for family, for giving and a time for gratitude, and Vermaak wants community members to recognize how good they have it – and how some aren’t as fortunate. Homelessness is never easy, especially for families, many of which are fronted by single mothers who simply don’t make enough, have what Vermaak said is “all the stress in the world on them” and can’t provide a traditional Christmas or holiday celebration.
He said now is the time to help.
“I believe that with Thanksgiving and the holiday season and Christmas and New Year’s, people feel like, ‘I’m blessed, my life is good, I’ve got a family to go to,’ and they want to serve and make a difference in the lives of people that don’t have that, who don’t have a family to go to over Christmas or Thanksgiving, who don’t have a meal,” Vermaak said. “And they just want to say, ‘I’m a human being just like you.’ We hear about all the shootings. We hear about all the fires. We hear about all the hatred in our country. Let’s do something that binds people together across the lines of ethnicity and the lines of income. You don’t often get that.”
According to the 2017 Homeless Point-In-Time Count, conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, it is estimated that approximately 331 residents experience homelessness on any given night in Santa Clarita. The city said on its website it is committed to addressing this growing concern, but organizations such as Family Promise are on the front lines, partnering with religious congregations, youth groups, PTAs and other school groups, auxiliaries and secular groups such as Elks, Rotary and Boys and Girls Club to help make the holidays a little bit better for homeless and low-income families.
Vermaak said he started work on this event in October, a month earlier than last year. As of last week, more than 30 people have signed up to volunteer for 157 out of 327 available slots (48 percent).
According to the online signup list, a Girl Scout troop and families from Skyblue Mesa and Highlands Elementary are manning the donation location on Valley Street in Newhall. People have signed up to sort gifts, wrap gifts, transport supplies, decorate, assist families with shopping, set up tables, serve food and beverage, and clean up.
Last year, a company donated 3,000 half-used toilet-paper rolls. A then-8-year-old, Cayden Tyler, and his grandmother collected clothing. During the actual shopping, mothers helped mothers. Four-year-olds helped other 4-year-olds.
People donate gift cards from such places as Target or Shell. Dining establishments such as Bagel Boyz and Little Caesars Pizza donate food. Vermaak said his phone and email are regularly ringing and buzzing with requests from people wanting to help.
“This is a community event,” Vermaak said. “We love that so many individuals and organizations and churches and schools are saying, ‘You know what? Being poor and being homeless over this holiday season is not acceptable.’ It’s a small thing we do, but you know what? Sometimes, it’s the only thing a child needs, just someone that shows (that) I care for you in the season … you play with your toys, your parents are able to give you a good plate of food, and there’s some clothing, and somebody cares for you.”
“It’s not Family Promise. It’s the community.”
How can you help? Donate!
Gifts: Toys for all age groups 0-18. Smaller gifts preferred since we allow families to shop for about 3-4 gifts per child. Gifts for adults (smaller size). Puzzles and games
Gift cards: Gas, food, restaurants, Walmart, Target, 99c store, Dollar Tree, grocery stores, prepaid phone cards. $25 per family under four persons, $50 per family over 4 persons.
Supplies: Diaper (especially size 4-6), baby wipes, diaper cream, feminine hygiene products, cleaning supplies, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, soap, bodywash, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, toothpaste, toothbrushes, make-up and beauty products, body wash, bath towels, queen and twin bedsheets, pillow cases standard & king, disposable razors, shaving cream, zip lock bags, trash bags, plastic cutlery, paper towels, paper plates, paper bowls, napkins, school supplies.
Clothing: Underwear for boys, girls. Socks for all ages and genders. Shirts, pants, shorts for children.
Volunteer opportunities: Sign-up here to donate or volunteer
The Family Promise Story
In 1982, Karen Olson was a marketing executive who developed promotional campaigns for consumer products. One morning, on her way to a meeting, she saw a homeless woman, someone she’d seen over and over again on her way to work.
She decided to buy a sandwich for the woman. The stranger accepted the sandwich but asked for something else—a moment to be heard, to be comforted, and to be considered as more than a mere statistic on a cold street corner.
Soon, Karen and her two young sons began frequent trips to New York to hand out sandwiches to the homeless. As she came to know some of the city’s homeless people, she began to understand the profound loss and disconnection that homelessness causes. That understanding turned into an enduring commitment.
The First Interfaith Hospitality Network
Olson learned that there were hundreds of homeless people, including families, in her home community of Union County, New Jersey.
She turned to the religious community for help, convinced that there were many who shared her concern and that together they could do what they couldn’t do alone. Within ten months, eleven area congregations came forward to provide hospitality space within their buildings. The local YMCA agreed to provide showers and a day center for families. A car dealer discounted a van.
On October 27, 1986, the first Interfaith Hospitality Network opened its doors.
As word spread, ten more congregations formed a second Network. Programs for transitional housing, childcare, and family mentoring followed—outgrowths of increased awareness and involvement.
The Network Goes National
The success of the first Networks led other congregations to seek help in developing similar programs. In 1988, National Interfaith Hospitality Network was formed to bring the program to other areas where neighbors could work together to help homeless families.
To date, Family Promise has established 149 affiliates in 39 states, using the services of more than 125,000 volunteers and 5,000 congregations.
The IHNs provide shelter, meals, and housing and job placement support to more than 45,000 homeless family members annually, 60 percent of them children.
Witnessing firsthand the obstacles that low-income families face, Family Promise leaders and volunteers have been motivated to do more. Affiliates have seized the initiative to create additional community programs, such as housing renovation, job training, and healthcare programs.
As a way of helping at-risk families avoid homelessness, Family Promise began training volunteers to advise and mentor families, helping them achieve and maintain self-sufficiency.
To foster a greater understanding of the root causes of homelessness, Family Promise launched the Just Neighbors educational curriculum.
In 2003, the organization changed its name to Family Promise to reflect a broader range of programs and reaffirm its core commitment to helping families realize their own potential.
And although 40 states and 125,000 volunteers now define the breadth and depth of the organization, Karen’s mandate remains in place … if you can strengthen one family, you can strengthen a nation.
As a national organization, Family Promise has been awarded a 4-star Charity Navigator designation for the fifth year in a row. Only 9 percent of nonprofits achieve this, and it reflects our commitment to transparency, good governance, fiscal prudence, and strategic growth.
Locally you can find more at http://www.familypromisescv.org/family-promise-of-scv/, (661) 251-2868