“Wonderful,” Fred Branscomb said as he received a new fan from the St. Nicholas Parish Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference food pantry at the former Visitation/St. Ann Shrine Church.
He picked up the fan — part of the Society’s Cool Breeze program in St. Louis. The central office of the Society distributed more than 500 fans recently to conference representatives, the 10th year of the Cool Breeze program, which offers fans to neighbors in need who lack sufficient cooling systems in the summer.
Lorraine Spinks-Finney, a volunteer at the pantry, also was appreciative since she obtained some fans for a woman she knows who is battling cancer and needs them to stay cool.
The St. Nicholas food pantry serves a wide area of north St. Louis, said Johnny Fleming, conference president. The parish also has a pantry on the St. Nicholas Parish campus, and together they serve eight zip codes of north St. Louis. Fleming obtained 15 fans from the Society’s central office, purchasing them for $3 each. St. Vincent de Paul purchased the fans from Walmart, which offered a discounted price with a $2,000 Community Grant. Over the past 10 years, St. Vincent de Paul estimates its volunteers have given away about 4,500 fans to people in need.
Fleming started volunteering in 2006 when Visitation/St. Ann Shrine had its pantry in the basement of the church. He retired after working 20 years with UPS and 18 with the City of St. Louis. “I just like helping everybody out,” Fleming said.
The fans are important for helping people with high utility bills and a lack of a proper cooling system, but the pantry meets a wide variety of needs, including referrals for utility assistance. Fleming overheard a client ask one of the other volunteers if they had toilet paper. Told no, the man began to walk away before halting when Fleming said he thought he could help. Scrounging under a sink, Fleming found a spare roll and handed it to the man whose face lit up with a smile before he thanked the pantry workers effusively.
On this day, every client received donuts as well, a pleasant surprise for them. The volunteers have developed a friendship with many of them as they joked and laughed together. As clients left, the volunteers yelled out salutations such as “You be blessed and be safe” and “You be good.”
One man arrived without a face mask — he was provided one by Fleming — and when he left a volunteer told him, “We want you to be protected. We want to see you every month.”
Patricia Bostic walked seven blocks to the pantry for groceries. “I love it. They serve you so well. It’s right in the neighborhood where we need it,” Bostic said. “The people are so friendly, really nice. They live their faith.”
“That’s my girl,” Bostic said, pointing to Spinks-Finney, who had worked up a sweat straightening up items in the storage area in the basement.
Spinks-Finney, who helped organize two community appreciation barbecues for clients, said “I love volunteering. I love helping people.”
Ella Scott, who was busy packing up items and helping clients carry them to their cars, said she enjoys the connection too. “What God calls us to do is serve,” she said.
Alexander Demetrius Williams, busy with several chores at the pantry, said he enjoys “the nicest people” who are his fellow volunteers. “You have to do something without a price tag in your life,” he said. “To reach out and serve the goodness in yourself, there’s a reward in that. Helping is part of humanity, and not the selfish part.”
Alice O’Bryant added that volunteering gives her a new purpose. She cited a favorite line from a hymn: “I’m available to You.”
A sign placed on one of the tables conveyed the atmosphere at the pantry: “Lift every voice and sing til earth and heaven ring. Celebrate every day.”
>> Society of St. Vincent de Paul:
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, including arranging utility and
prescription drug assistance and assisting with housing and
More than 3,400 trained volunteers provided
an estimated 343,000 hours of volunteer person-to-person and thrift
store service in 2018. In fiscal year 2018, the Society assisted over
344,000 people and provided more than $8.4 million in direct aid to
those in need in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The Society of St.
Vincent de Paul in St. Louis is a registered nonprofit organization.
For information or to make a contribution to the Society, visit svdpstlouis.org,
contact Ryan Carney at (314) 881-6003 or [email protected] or send a
check to The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Archdiocesan Council of St.
Louis, 1310 Papin Street, St. Louis, MO 63103.
Helping people in need
Rachel Henson jumped into the
back of a large commercial truck and carried heavy boxes to awaiting
hands on a sweltering afternoon June 18.
But the recent graduate
of Festus High School who attends Sacred Heart Parish in Festus didn’t
mind doing the volunteer work. “I enjoy helping and getting fans to
people who need them. It’s worth it,” Henson said.
It’s the third
year she’s volunteered to help the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
central office provide conference representatives with fans that they
distribute to their neighbors in need. “I like knowing that people will
be using them and it will be a help to people who are needy in a very
hot summer,” said Henson, who said she volunteers a lot with her
grandfather, who works at the central office.
R.B. Clark III of
St. Anselm Parish in Creve Coeur was one of the conference
representatives picking up fans. He obtained 20 of them. They’ll be
distributed to families in two areas where St. Anselm helps other
conferences — at St. Cecilia Parish in St. Louis and in north St. Louis
Last year, Clark said, St. Anselm’s conference made 465
home visits to deliver food and other assistance. They gave out 645 beds
valued at $145,000 in the council’s bed program. “You can’t believe how
many people we visit where they’re sleeping on the floor,” he said.
“It’s what we’re able to do because of the generosity of our parish” and
others, he said.
Paul Griner of St. Catherine Laboure Parish in
Sappington also picked up fans. His parish maintains contact with
several clients and is sure the fans will be needed, he said.
press release from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on the Cool Breeze
Program noted that families often have to choose between using funds
for either food or utility bills. Food is usually the first choice, but
lack of a proper cooling system can be detrimental to one’s health. High
temperatures and humidity can cause heat exhaustion if the body is not
able to cool itself down. Heat exhaustion can cause fatigue, dizziness,
nausea, headaches and more. In more severe cases, one may develop
heatstroke, which can result in death, according to the news release.
a ‘Cool Breeze’ on a hot day can bring relief to someone and
potentially even save a life,” said Steve Rupp, the Society’s manager of
growth and revitalization.