Tuesday 12.03.2019

Nonprofit Helps Poor and Vulnerable Populations

Sister Consuelo Tovar San AntonioLike many senior citizens, South Side resident Sabina Suarez does her best to make ends meet each month.

Suarez, 75, lives on a fixed income. She recently learned that she faces a steep rent increase. But she still has to eat.

Last Monday, she stood in a long line of elderly people that extended outside the door of the DePaul Family Center at 7607 Somerset Road. She left with enough food to fill a shopping cart — a pork loin, frozen pork patties, frozen fish sticks, fresh milk, nutritional drinks, cheese, navy beans, rice, pecans, pistachios, raisins, dried cherries and various canned goods.

The nonprofit Ascension DePaul Services, formerly known as the Daughters of Charity Services of San Antonio, handed out free groceries to more than 200 seniors that day.

“I’ve been coming here for a lot of years,” Suarez said.

Her family said the food handouts make Suarez’s lean budget more bearable.

“This helps her quite a lot, actually,” said daughter Annette Zuniga, 42, of San Antonio.

Ascension DePaul holds its senior food distributions twice a month. Recipients must register with the nonprofit’s office to receive such help.

The senior program is currently full, so until vacancies open up, new applicants are being redirected to the San Antonio Food Bank to find help from other food pantries.

The food handouts are part of Ascension DePaul’s mission to assist poor and vulnerable populations.

The nonprofit, established in 1958, also provides free clothing, parenting education and various social services to people with meager resources. It offers basic medical and dental care at sliding-scale fees based on a patient’s income.

At the center, there’s a child care room where parents in need can register with the Texas Pregnancy Care Network to obtain free diapers, baby wipes, baby formula and toys for their little ones.

There’s a Clothes Closet, where someone can pick out donated garments or shoes for themselves or their children.

And there’s a computer lab, where visitors can update a job résumé, pursue a GED or study for a U.S. citizenship test.

The nonprofit conducts full assessments to help its clients return to self-sufficiency or achieve their full potential.

“What we’re able to do is help them find out what brought them to that situation in the first place … and provide help or support to get out of that situation,” said Anel Treviño, director of community health and outreach.

Sometimes people show up at Ascension DePaul seeking help because of an unexpected job loss or illness.

Some walk-in clients are grandparents who find themselves raising grandchildren. Some are parents who have come under investigation by Child Protective Services. Others are immigrants. Others are homeless.

“One of the biggest ways that we get people coming in is through word of mouth,” said Edward Castillo, the nonprofit’s director of development.

Ascension DePaul has three caseworkers who help families enroll in health insurance plans or various forms of public assistance, such as Medicare, Medicaid or food benefits. But some clients don’t qualify for any benefits and still need help.

“The added difficulty is the number of immigrants that are here, also unauthorized. … They can’t benefit from any government-sponsored programs,” said Sister Consuelo Tovar, the director of mission, integration and advocacy.

Much of Ascension DePaul’s funding comes from government grants, corporate donations and private contributions.

At the La Misión Family Health Care facility at 19780 South U.S. 281, the nonprofit provides low-cost primary medical and dental care to thousands of people each year.

Ascension DePaul has also been providing more counseling and behavioral health services in recent years through a collaboration with Our Lady of the Lake University and the University of the Incarnate Word, Tovar said.

At DePaul Children’s Center, the organization provides child care for kids ranging from 6 weeks to 5 years old. Most of the children are from low-income families. Tuition rates are competitive and more affordable than those charged by many other child care facilities, said education and site manager Irma Bustos.

The children’s center also offers an after-school program for kids 6 to 12 years old.

Gloria G. Sosa, a Ride Connect Texas volunteer who provides transportation to seniors in need, learned of Ascension DePaul when she was assigned to drive two clients to the nonprofit’s food distributions.

Sosa said she’s met a few seniors who struggled with an inadequate food supply and didn’t know where to turn for help. She plans to bring another client to Ascension DePaul’s office to register for the food handouts.

Three neighbors living in Somerset — Carmen Ramos, 80, Robert Rios, 66, and Celia Cantu, 70 — rode together in the same car to Monday’s food distribution.

“It helps me a whole bunch, so it’s pretty phenomenal,” Rios said of the free food.

He was particularly impressed with the pork loin. “Pretty nice,” he said.

Originally published by San Antonio Express News.