Today, at 74, Marlene is all smiles. She is eager and ready to tell you about the miracles that have blessed her life. Marlene is happy to describe how she has her friends, her health, and purpose which helps fill her days. Marlene meets regularly in Concord with a group of other senior women to prepare and distribute food to people in need – the homeless in the parks, the group homes for disabled adults nearby, and to whomever they know that may need a little assistance. Marlene said her life wasn’t always this way, and that there was a very dark period in her life when she needed help – and she was thankful for the St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County volunteers at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
“I’ve been so blessed to have met such kind, generous, and compassionate people at the St. Mary’s St. Vincent de Paul branch,” Marlene said. “When my husband Andre passed away, I felt so lost and so alone. I really had nothing and no where to turn. But the people at St. Vincent de Paul helped feed me, they gave me clothing when I needed it, and they even repaired my car for me! I don’t know where I would be today without them.”
Thirteen years ago, Marlene’s life was up-ended when the home in Concord burned down in a house fire. Marlene said they lost everything: their clothing, the tools they used in the janitorial company they ran together for 30 years, and their memories. To make matters worse, not long after the fire, Andre would become very ill.
“The only thing I didn’t lose in that fire was my rosary. About a week before the fire I just happened to tuck the rosary into my person. I still can’t figure out why I did that”,” Marlene said. “When my Andre got sick, and when I eventually lost him, I thought my faith would be hurt. But his loss really caused me to reflect on what matters in life – how it isn’t material things that matter and that God will help guide you to where you need to be.”
Marlene said caring for husband, and dealing with what financial burdens they still had after losing so much in the fire, slowly drained their finances away, until she eventually found herself declaring bankruptcy. Marlene said for a long time, she became truly dependent on the charity she was able to receive from groups such as St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County.
“I don’t need much, I’m just 1 small woman, but they way the volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul always opened their arms to me was truly inspiring. I’m so grateful for everything they’ve done for me,” Marlene said. “It’s why I started helping deliver food and cooking meals for other people in need. I have a group of friends that do the same. We visit the local pantries to collect any extra food supplies and deliver them to people who can’t manage to get to the pantries when they’re open.”
Today, Marlene is a staple in the communities she serves. Sitting in Todos Santos Plaza in Concord, Marlene is able to greet almost everyone that walks by her by name. She can regularly be seen helping her friends experiencing homelessness find out where they can go for food, clothing, or a hot a shower.
“It’s been a long time, but I’m finally moving into Senior HUD housing in Lafayette,” Marlene said. “I’ve been so blessed despite my hardships. It’s been eye opening for me, showing me what is truly important. And seeing so many people work hard to give to others in need makes me realize: doing what you can to help others is what is really important.”