SEATTLE – When volunteers and staff arrived November 2 to get St. Francis House ready to greet and help neighbors in need, they were shocked to find the aftermath of an overnight break-in.
“It’s really terrible,” said Kathy Collins, one of the nonprofit’s co-executive directors. “They got into every crevice … every desk drawer.”
The thieves found the key to the safe, where they removed about $1,000 in petty cash and gas/store gift cards, as well as nearly 800 bus tickets that the city of Seattle had just allocated to the organization for the rest of the year.
They also took sleeping bags, backpacks, new and used clothing, first-aid kits, flashlights, phone chargers and other items — even duct tape, Collins said.
Then “they just filled the whole [St. Francis House] van and drove out,” she said. “We never thought this was a possibility.”
To meet the needs of their clients, the organization is seeking donations to replenish its inventory. (See box below for how to help.)
Collins is also asking people to be on the lookout for the vehicle, a 1999 Ford Econovan, license number B88551H, with the St. Francis House logo on the side. (Anyone seeing the van should call police.) The van is used at least four days a week to pick up furniture and donations, and to deliver furniture to clients, Collins said in an email, “so the effect is great.”
Jim Brennan unloads donations from the St. Francis House van, which has been used by the nonprofit organization at least four days a week to pick up and deliver donations. The organization’s building was burglarized and the van was stolen November 2. Photo: Courtesy St. Francis House
Welcoming those in need
For 51 years, St. Francis House has provided free assistance to neighbors in need in the First Hill area. The organization helps about 13,500 people each year. Most are homeless, while others are the working poor or those trying to get by on fixed incomes. Every Monday through Friday, the organization offers a warm place to pick up a cup of coffee and something to eat (doughnuts and sandwiches are usual fare). Guests can shop for clothing and household goods; items like blankets, sleeping bags and backpacks are popular requests from people living on the streets.
St. Francis House relies entirely on donations from individuals and organizations — it is not funded by the Archdiocese of Seattle or any private or governmental agency. The organization has nearly 100 volunteers, most of them Catholics from local parishes and schools, who staff the center, sort donations and meet with clients. (Read more about St. Francis House, from the May 2017 issue of Northwest Catholic.)
The Ford Econovan van stolen from St. Francis House has the organization’s logo on its side. Photo: Courtesy St. Francis House
St. Francis House follows and spreads the Gospel message “to love our neighbors as ourselves,” Collins said. “These are definitely our neighbors that come, and some of them are really struggling.”
The break-in meant St. Francis House had to turn clients away November 2. It reopened November 5, even though its inventory had been pillaged.
“We really like being a place that trusts people and welcomes people,” Collins said. She has received suggestions about increasing security measures, but “it’s really hard to find the balance.” The thief, she noted, “is one person out of the thousands of people that come out here.”
While cleaning up the aftermath of the theft and dealing with police reports, insurance company paperwork and banking account changes, Collins is also focused on living the mission of St. Francis House.
“I really believe in the mission of trust and peace and sowing love where there’s hatred” and “our mission of creating connection and joy,” she said. “We’re more alike than we are different.”
How to donate to St. Francis House
After the November 2 break-in, St. Francis House is especially in need of blankets and diapers, as well as other items that were stolen.
“We would be thrilled to have gas cards and grocery store cards — any grocery store, any gas station,” said Kathy Collins, one of the nonprofit’s co-executive directors.
St. Francis House is located at 169 12th Ave., Seattle, WA 98122. Donations can be dropped off there from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Monetary donations can be made by sending a check to the same address, or giving online.