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Seattle family in medical and financial crisis gets helping hand from Catholic outreach

SEATTLE, Wash. (Catholic Northwest Progress) - Sara Macri and her fianc Conrado Mendoza sit together in the Burien apartment they moved into last month, watching their young daughters sleep. Its a rare moment of peace in the familys continuing struggle to survive.

FINALLY, HELP - Two-year-old Adrianna peers into the camera while her folks, Conrado Mendoza and Sara Macri (holding four-month old Isabel) look on. While the couple is finding it hard to make ends meet, their situation was bolstered recently by assistance from Catholic Community Services. (PhotoByMike.com)

FINALLY, HELP - Two-year-old Adrianna peers into the camera while her folks, Conrado Mendoza and Sara Macri (holding four-month old Isabel) look on. While the couple is finding it hard to make ends meet, their situation was bolstered recently by assistance from Catholic Community Services. (PhotoByMike.com)


In the morning theyll face the reality that they could lose the apartment and the children if they cant come up with this months rent. Macri will go through the phone book, calling every church and social service agency she can find.

If its your first time asking [for help], or if its your hundredth, its not any easier, says Macri, mother of 2-year-old Adrianna and baby Isabel, who was born last fall with a heart defect. I feel I should have my own money and be able to take care of my kids.

Like most low-income families, their story is complicated: a combination of bad luck, medical crises and the escalating cost of living in King County.

A heart defect

Mendoza has a new job as a shuttle driver for a local motel, but he doesnt make enough to cover their living expenses. Macri would like to go back to work shes staffed the front desk at motels, worked in fast food restaurants and served as a receptionist and Spanish translator at H & R Block but she cant find a childcare center that will take an infant with medical problems.

Even if she could, shed need time off work for the babys medical appointments and upcoming surgery, something her employers havent looked kindly on.

Macri, who says shes 23 going on 50, has already faced more than her share of obstacles. Molested by a relative when she was young, she later dropped out of high school, battled a crack cocaine addiction and spent time in jail. Shes been off drugs for nine years and hasnt had a drink in four.

Cleaning up her act has been hard, she says, but its made me stronger as a person. Counseling helped me understand that some of it was my fault, but some of it wasnt.

A week after Isabel was born last September, doctors discovered the baby had a heart defect and needed immediate surgery. On top of that, Macri learned that they would have to move out of their subsidized low-income housing unit; according to federal housing regulations, the one-bedroom apartment was too small for the growing family.

A two-bedroom apartment (also low-income housing) opened up in the same building, but the couple didnt have the money for the damage deposit and first months rent.

After making dozens of other calls, Macri called Catholic Community Services. I do not know where to turn, she told them.

A life changing thing

Staff at the south King County family center listened compassionately to her story and offered her $400 for the deposit. Combined with a loan from her grandparents and help from a nearby church, it was enough for the family to move in Dec. 1, 2007.

If we hadnt received that help from CCS, we wouldnt be here, says Macri. The girls would probably be in foster care, and wed be living in the car. It sounds corny, but it was a life-changing thing.

Changing lives is all in a days work at the 12 CCS family centers serving western Washington. The centers help thousands of families in crisis, offering both practical assistance and emotional support. In King County alone, 2,500 families a year receive assistance, ranging from food, warm coats and bus passes to gift cards, motel vouchers and legal advice. Rental assistance is limited to once per family per year.

Macri and Mendoza know their challenges arent over. Doctors say the baby will need more heart surgery this month. Mendoza is behind on his truck payments they needed the money for diapers and formula and worries that his truck will be repossessed. The couple is scrambling to find the money for rent so they dont end up on the street.

Just when they didnt need any more bad luck, Macris car broke down late last month. Isabel inhaled the smoke and ended up in the hospital for five days. Macri stayed by her side, barely sleeping. She didnt dare go home, fearing the worst. I was afraid Id get that phone call at 2 a.m. and go back . . . to nothing.

Their goals at this point are modest: to find the money to cover rent, gas, and diapers for a couple of months so they can focus on their babys health.

The stress of getting through each day feels overwhelming, but, like any mother, Macri keeps on for the sake of her children.

If not for the kids, we would have given up a long time ago, she says. You look in their eyes, and thats what makes it all worth it.



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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Catholic Northwest Progress (www.seattlearch.org/progress), official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Seattle, Wash.

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