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Emergency voucher program needs help

More volunteers, money needed to serve community

Last year more than 500 individuals sought a helping hand through the Hood River Emergency Voucher Program: About 200 of those were children.

The volunteer-run project provides applicants with vouchers to exchange for gasoline, hotel stays, food and bus tickets during short-term emergencies. The program is also often the first to offer house fire victims hotel stays along with the Red Cross.

How to Help: Take training or make a donation

To provide potential volunteers with a chance to learn about the program, an April 17 free training has be slated at the hospital, noon to 1:30 p.m.

“Volunteers would be asked to cover a two-hour shift every two to three weeks,” said Thomas. Volunteers will be trained in compassionate listening, needs assessment, boundaries as well as referring to local social service agencies, assist individuals in crisis.

The program reviews client request for help daily between noon and 2 p.m. Clients report to the emergency room of the hospital to begin the process.

“The majority of the volunteer training is really to help learn about local resources and where to refer people to,” said Thomas. The vouchers are truly a one-time opportunity and clients are assisted to seek help from other existing local agencies.

“All donations are tax-deductible and we can guarantee that 100 percent of all funds donated to the project go directly to help those in need. We also never give cash to clients — only vouchers for the needed services.”

There are no overhead or staff costs to be paid and Providence provides the space for the program administration free of charge.

Anyone wishing to help continue the important work of the voucher program may send donations in care of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 400 11th St., Hood River, OR 97031.

For more information on training or donations contact Clinical Chaplain Maggie Sebastian at 541-387-6991.

But, like the many people it has helped over the years, the program itself is now in need of a similar helping hand.

Two issues now face the much-utilized crisis program: Volunteers are now being sought to help with interviewing applicants and distributing the vouchers; and the program needs additional funds.

“We only have enough funds to carry us through June,” said Chaplain Mark Thomas, director of mission integration and spiritual care at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital. “This year the increase in gas prices has really affected us, and we did not receive a grant that we had last year.”

According to Thomas, the program ended its 2012 operations $3,000 in the red and had to utilize limited reserves to meet client needs. In total, a year’s worth of emergency vouchers costs about $11,000. The funds to purchase those vouchers traditionally come from a cross-section of churches that pool their emergency monies together.

“This program has a long history but has been operating under the Gorge Ecumenical Ministries nonprofit for the last few years,” said Thomas. “We have many churches sharing the costs and we administer these funds through a coordinated effort.”

That cross-denominational coordination has ensured clients in need receive help without over-using limited church assistance programs.

“We have helped a lot of people,” said Thomas. “We would like to continue to do so.”

Until this month, the program had been managed entirely by the chaplains at PHRMH. “Our chaplains are now carrying additional duties region-wide and must prioritize patient care,”

said Thomas. “We need a total of 15 volunteers to help run the program and now have six signed up.”

Individuals can only access the emergency voucher program one time per year. They are then encouraged to identify natural resources and other social service agencies to support and assist them during their time of need.

“We are appealing to the broader community and as well as churches to donate,” said Thomas.

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