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Seton Center helps thousands each year on Eastern Shore

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Volunteer Al Nurmi puts food away after receiving an order In March 2017 at Catholic Charities’ Seton Center in Princess Anne, Md. (Photo courtesy the Diocesan Development Office)

Special to The Dialog

Annual Catholic Appeal helps Catholics Charities’ community center provide services for the needy

PRINCESS ANNE, Md. – Barbara Whitehead realizes the effort some people make just getting to Seton Center to ask for emergency food assistance.

While they need emergency food assistance because their finances are so tight, some in Crisfield, for example, must drive 20 miles each way, or talk a friend into taking them, or take an hour-long bus ride, paying a fare of $3 each way.

So, Seton Center representatives follow a couple of basic rules:

First, they try to make each client feel welcome. “We are so kind to people,” Whitehead said, showering them with “kindness and dignity.”

Volunteer Al Nurmi puts food away after receiving an order at Catholic Charities’ Seton Center in Princess Anne, Md. (Photo courtesy the Diocesan Development Office)
Volunteer Al Nurmi puts food away after receiving an order at Catholic Charities’ Seton Center in Princess Anne, Md. (Photo courtesy the Diocesan Development Office)

Second, they try to assess all the needs of the person they serve. “Usually, if they come in for food, they’ve got a lot more going on,” said Whitehead, one of 43 active volunteers.

As program manager Michele Canopii put it, “Everyone is welcome at Seton Center.” That goes not just for clients, but for other agencies helping those in need in Somerset County and adjoining areas. Her goal is to make Seton Center a community center that can address all of one’s needs.

Seton Center, part of Catholic Charities, is one of nearly 40 diocesan offices and ministries supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal.

This year’s Annual Catholic   Appeal’s goal is $4,523,000. “Their Eyes Were Opened and They Recognized Him,” taken from Luke 24:31, is the theme. Catholics in the pew will be asked to make pledges on Commitment Weekend, April 29-30. Pledges may be paid in monthly installments or in one lump sum; in cash or check; by credit card, or online.

Funds raised will help the Diocese of Wilmington’s offices and ministries, including Seton Center, assist more than 100,000 people in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore develop their spirituality, seek emotional and mental peace, and meet their physical needs.

Last year Seton Center helped 2,990 different clients through its various programs, such as food cooperative, emergency food assistance, eviction prevention and rehousing for the homeless, thrift store, and counseling and immigration services. The center has a paid staff of five and shares a mental health counselor and immigration specialist with Catholic Charities’ Georgetown office; they are at Seton Center one day a week.

It also hosts agencies and programs such as WIC, a nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children, administered through the Somerset County Department of Health, and English as a Second Language classes, and works with programs such as Chesapeake Health Care, the new name of Three Lower Counties Community Services, which provides medical and dental care not available at Seton Center.

Seton Center’s service area covers nine Eastern Shore counties, but most of its clients come from Somerset or adjoining Wicomico and Worcester counties.

The needs are great. Somerset County is the poorest in Maryland, with a 2014 annual median household income of $38,316 — almost $1,500 less than the second lowest in the state, data from the most recent Maryland Statistical Handbook shows. Canopii knows the culture of the Lower Eastern Shore. She grew up in Salisbury, 12 miles away from Princess Anne; her mother was a teacher in Somerset County. Canopii worked with the Baltimore City Departments of Social Services before coming to Seton Center.

She said although the urban poor and rural poor share many similar issues — adequate food, health care, and housing — their plights differ in several respects.

Take homelessness, for example. In urban areas, the homeless are more visible, so various groups react to the issue with shelters and other services. On the Lower Eastern Shore and in other rural counties they are “the hidden homeless. They are ‘doubling up,’ jumping from couch to couch,” house to house of friends and relatives, Canopii said.

Somerset County has no homeless shelter, but various groups including Seton Center are working to meet that need.

Many of the people served by Seton Center want to help pay their own way. Some who come in for, say, the WIC program may have other needs the center can address – food or housing assistance, for example – but are determined to make it on their own until they need help with a specific need.

It’s a question of dignity, something Canopii sees especially in the food cooperative. Members are charged $4 a month but the fee can be waived. Few request waivers.

“They feel better that way,” Canopii said. “It’s not a handout,”

But those clients often do more. It’s not uncommon for a cooperative member to pay with a $5 bill, then reject the $1 change, donating it to center operations. Those who need the services Seton Center provides, want to help provide those services to others.

“They are contributing,” Canopii said.