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ARLINGTON — The bright yellow files are stacked neatly in the Rev. Tim Sauer’s office at Immaculate Conception Church in Arlington.
Each folder has a name. Many contain invoices. Some are thicker than others.
With each, the church hopes to soften a family’s grief or, at the very least, allay their financial fears a bit.
Like other churches, Catholic parishioners felt a calling to help after the deadly March 22 Oso mudslide.
Their goal is to shoulder the funeral expenses, regardless of one’s faith or lack of faith.
Of the 43 people who died or are missing, seven were known to attend the Catholic church.
From the start, denomination didn’t matter. With backing from the Archdiocese of Seattle and help from Catholic Community Services, church officials contacted funeral homes and asked that all bills be sent directly to them.
Burying the dead is one of the Catholic church’s seven Corporal Works of Mercy, a list that includes feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting the sick.
“For us, it was a logical step to take that was consistent with our teaching about the sanctity of every human life,” Sauer said. “We are operating out of our faith and what it tells us to do.”
Sauer has and will continue to officiate funeral services for both Catholic and non-Catholics whose lives ended in the slide.
The church has budgeted $450,000 for funeral-related expenses with donations pouring in from parishes in Western Washington and from across the country. It has been able to pick up direct costs, but must be judicious with some indirect ones, such as lodging for some out-of-town guests.
To date, the church has received bills related to 33 of the people who died in the slide.
“We think at this point we will be able to cover them all, paying most everything for everyone,” Sauer said. “We are shepherding this to make sure we have enough for the basic needs of everybody.”
The church hopes that by picking up funeral expenses, more money will be available through Federal Emergency Management Agency checks to help families get back on their feet.
Local churches recognize that recovery will be a long process.
Sauer is comforted by the efforts he sees from other churches and stories he hears through the Arlington Ministerial Association. All of the churches have collected money with hopes of helping meet short and long-term needs of those affected by the Oso slide.
“We have really come together to work together. We are all trying to see what we can do,” he said. “Our church is taking care of one of the immediate needs, but there are just a thousand incidental costs that families will discover as time goes on.