Clients filed in as the food pantry at Our Lady of the Holy Cross was about to open for business on a recent evening. But before things got underway, pastor Father Vince Nyman offered a short prayer.
“Help us to focus on Jesus’ mission,” he said.
Operated by the parish’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference, the food pantry provides bread, apples, meat products, canned goods and other items; most clients leave with two full bags. The mission also provides intangible goods as well: a demonstration that people care.
Client Dwayne Jones, a U.S. Army veteran who uses a wheelchair, met Father Nyman on one of the pastor’s regular outreach days in the neighborhood; he offers coffee and other items to passers-by. Jones still has a rosary from the priest. He appreciates the items he receives from the pantry, as well as the service provided by the volunteers.
“It’s beautiful,” Jones said.
Volunteer Karen Moretto was taught to help people in need, and she carries that on today.
“It puts joy in my heart to know we can share things with others in our community,” said Moretto, who with her husband, Bob, has volunteered regularly at the food pantry since the 1990s. “We just try to help with whatever they need.”
About two dozen people are on the list of helpers for the weekly food pantry; others donate food or help pack bags.
Eddiemae Brown has volunteered at the food pantry for 10 years, never missing a scheduled time. She began the volunteer service simply because she was approached about it.
“An older man up at church, I think he was the president of this, he told me, ‘Eddiemae, you need to be down at St. Vincent de Paul,’” she said.
Sitting at a table with a foot-high statue of St. Vincent de Paul, Brown said she volunteers “because I love the giving-back part, helping out. People come in here with needs and feel they don’t have anywhere else to turn. I just want them to feel a little bit more secure and hopeful when they walk out. It’s a good feeling.”
Brown, who works in the insurance/pension business, also does home visits, which she described as an occasion to explore further how to help people in need and to help people who are homebound.
She enjoys seeing when people rebound from a setback. One woman recently returned to the food pantry after being self-sustaining for seven years. She told Brown that she just needed help with a transition; she had started a new job and hadn’t been paid yet.
Many clients are disabled. Some are families that need help for their children.
People want to tell you about their situation,” Brown said. “Just being available to them is important because sometimes they have nobody to talk to.”
She’s helped with job referrals or clothes to wear on job interviews. The clients show their appreciation, often inquiring about Brown’s son, a Washington University student who volunteers when classes aren’t in session.
According to Father Nyman, the volunteers have a special gift of relating to people, especially people with very acute needs. They enjoy their work, too, he said.
“We try to have a sense of family. Any one of us knows that under the same situations we could be just like them,” Father Nyman said. “We understand it’s not easy to come with so many needs. And we’re sensitive to how vulnerable they can be.”
The effort is “about encountering people. Not running away from suffering, but being there accompanying them in their life’s trials,” he added.
Volunteer Karen Sproat joyously bid one client farewell, saying, with a smile, “Behave yourself, Rodney.” She joked about being “roped into” volunteering by her 84-year-old mother, who needed a ride to the volunteer work. On a serious note, she admitted, “I like my people” who face serious challenges.
Escaping poverty is difficult, she said, adding that basic transportation is a particularly troubling barrier.
According to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Archdiocesan Council of St. Louis, which serves the parish conferences, volunteers such as the Morettos, Brown and Sproat seek holiness through works of charity. They benefit from the giving and receiving of St. Vincent de Paul’s three pillars: spirituality, friendship and service.
Christy and Joe Mooney began volunteering with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at St. Norbert Parish in Florissant after taking a CRHP (Christ Renews His Parish) retreat. They were involved in a lot of parish activities previously, but they found the Vincentian work most fulfilling.
“It’s good, good, good all the way around, and you can’t not do it,” she said.
>> Providing help
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international Catholic lay organization dedicated to providing person-to-person service to all in need.
Volunteers make home visits to provide services, including arranging utility and prescription drug assistance and assisting with housing and transportation needs.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in St. Louis seeks volunteers both in parish conferences in thrift store.
To volunteer, contact your local parish conference. To help in one of the thrift stores, visit www.svdpstlouis.org or call (314) 881-6000.
To provide critical financial support, visit www.stlouisreview.com/jFf, call (314) 881-6035 or mail a check to 1310 Papin Street, St. Louis, Mo. 63103.
Shoppers and volunteers in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s thrift stores help generate revenue to fund programs. Purchases also help provide low-cost and no-cost goods directly to people in need.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul delivers furniture, clothing and other household items to people who have experienced a loss such as a natural disaster, eviction, foreclosure or domestic violence. The family may have been forced to move quickly and needs help getting settled.
The Society also provides items to low-income families who simply can’t afford them. Often during home visits, volunteers discover that a family doesn’t have furniture to sit on, a kitchen table to eat on, or beds for children to sleep in. In these cases, a family receives a voucher, redeemable for specific goods at the thrift stores.
For information, visit www.svdpstlouis.org.
The Society welcomes shoppers, volunteers and donations at each of its nine thrift stores.