By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Two thousand dollars and hundreds of pounds of food, both on behalf of Volunteers In Service To Others (VISTO), was the final tally of Sunday’s homemade soup luncheon at First Christian Church.
Organizer Lucy Sutton said proceeds from this year’s installment of “Soup-er Bowl Sunday” have been 100 percent earmarked for VISTO and participation proved impressive.
“We had twice as many churches this year as we had last year,” Sutton said Sunday. “It was a wonderful ecumenical effort.”
Sutton explained that the increased number of churches from all over Cooke County participated in “Soup-er Bowl Sunday” likely because of advance newspaper exposure during January.
“We got a head start on it it this year,” Sutton said. “it’s just a fun event. And it’s just, whatever you get, you get, and it’s a blessing from God.”
Pastor John DeVito said this year’s installment looked to be not only an improvement but a record-setter.
“I think we reached a new milestone this year because we had more people from all the churches and city of Gainesville,” he said. “It was two thousand dollars, plus another grand or two in food. We had about 20 soups and it was just about all wiped out at the end. And that was the beauty of it this year: it wasn’t just our church and a few others who straggled in.”
How VISTO helps
In early January, VISTO Executive Director Michelle Baldwin credited annual fundraisers such as “Soup-er Bowl Sunday.” The 2012 event raised roughly half the funds and donated food seen this past Sunday — and though every dollar helps, it can’t always be predicted where those dollars will go.
“It’s hard to measure the value of $1,000 here,” Baldwin said in January. “For some families it provides hot water. For some families, it’s going to keep the lights on so the kids can do their homework.”
Baldwin added that 76 percent of her clients are people who have formally admitted they would not have eaten that day if VISTO representatives hadn’t interceded. Not all VISTO clients are unemployed and chronically broke, she said, but their limited funds remain tied up in other needs.
“It might be providing medicine for someone who is in a life-threatening situation,” she said. “The value is far, far beyond the dollars and cents. It takes those dollars and cents to make those little miracles happen. But they are little miracles, because when people come to VISTO, we are their last hope.”
Roughly 80 percent of VISTO’s clients are local residents who only need the organization’s help a single time, or only once every few years. They’re people sustaining problems that are temporary, such as unemployment or an emergency lack of funds.
“If there’s a good support system, they’re not going to be there long,” Baldwin said.
But Baldwin said her other 20 percent are people trapped in the cycle of facing multiple problems at once.
“A lot of our clients don’t have good education or a support system,” she said. “Or they have a support system, but it’s one based on survival and not being able to go beyond that. And so every other issue that comes in is another setback.”
Common debilitating factors include not only poverty but domestic violence, chronic health problems, mental health issues and a simple lack of education.
“When you cull all those together, it makes a pretty formidable obstacle to try and stay out of crisis because you’re assaulted on more than one front and all at the same time,” Baldwin said.
For more information about VISTO, call (940) 668-6403.