The 55-gallon oil drum filled with scrap metal was way too heavy for Len Valentine and Bob Telthorst to lift. Scienco/Fast employees Mike Erxleben and Jamie McDowell hooked the barrel up to a pulley and dumped it into the bed of Valentine’s pickup truck. The bed sank from the weight.
The stop at the industrial park in Sunset Hills was just part of a ministry by the volunteers with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference at Mary Mother of the Church Parish in south St. Louis County. Volunteers recycle loads of scrap metal and return the proceeds to the Society. That particular load of scrap netted $138.10 for people served by the Society.
“Our St. Vincent de Paul conference has been blessed to be able to help protect the environment and at the same time assist many of our brothers and sisters in need,” said Dick Drury, one of the volunteers who helps organize it.
Since its start, the ministry has raised almost $110,000 for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an international Catholic lay organization dedicated to providing person-to-person service to people in need. Volunteers make home visits to provide services, including arranging utility and prescription drug assistance and helping with housing and transportation needs.
The scrap metal recycling program was initiated in 2009 by Dan Schoenekase, a Mary Mother of the Church parishioner. Schoenekase used his truck to pick up old appliances, lawn mowers, hot water heaters, patio tables, barbecue pits — anything made of metal that was to be discarded. He carefully stripped the semi-precious metals from the items and redeemed all the waste at a local metal recycler, donating the proceeds to the Mary Mother SVDP.
After several years, Len Valentine, also a Mary Mother parishioner, began helping with this service. He, too, has a pickup truck, a strong back and the intense desire to help those less fortunate.
Now, a half-dozen men help with the pickup, extracting the semi-precious metals such as copper, brass and aluminum from various donations. On the same day Valentine and Telthorst collected items in the pickup truck, Bob Taylor, Tom Angus and Paul Zimmermann stayed back at the parish sorting items. One of the items they loaded on a trailer was a scale from a pediatrician’s office that was used for 55 years and had weighed babies an estimated half-million times. At 200-250 pounds, the well-used equipment will bring about $15 from the scrap yard.
Waiting to be loaded was a tub weighing about 300 pounds. Communication wire, cord wire and construction wire awaited stripping.
“I’m great at taking things apart. Not so good at putting them together,” Taylor said with a chuckle.
Deflecting credit, he said “I just help a little. I’ve enjoyed retirement, and this occupies me a few hours a week. At the end of the day, we’ve done some good for the parish and people of the community.”
The donations and volunteers’ labor generate about $2,000 a month for the parish conference and five Vincentian conferences supported by the parish every month — St. Stephen, St. Francis de Sales, St. Anthony of Padua, all in St. Louis, St. Andrew in Lemay and a young adult conference based at St. Pius V Parish in south St. Louis.
Many of the donations come from parishioners and residents of a five-parish area, and it saves them the cost and hassle of disposing of items. Sometimes they do pickups at homes of shut-ins who may have lost a spouse and want to see good come from possessions they no longer need. Items that are usable are either sold, given to people in need or donated to a charitable second-hand store. Bikes are donated to BikeWorks, a program that rehabs bikes and gives them to children in need.
The ministry had three refrigerators and a washing machine, all in working order, that will go to people needing them.
In addition, donations come from a few businesses, including auto parts from two auto dealers, and from a storage and equipment rental business owned by parishioners Steve and Susan Krieger.
The ministry is seeking to make fewer pickups while directing people to bring the items to a drop-off at the parish. Once, someone dropped off a bucket full of small metal items. Included was a women’s watch, still in working order, that will net additional income for the Society’s work.
At Scrap Mart in Valley Park, the clanging and banging was overwhelming as Valentine and Telthorst threw metal items into a hole and a crane operator scooped up other items and released them into a dump truck. Telthorst mimicked a javelin throw with metal rods.
They didn’t seem to mind the noise, the dust or the hard work. Still ahead were stops to pick up a washer and dryer and more miscellaneous metal. “We get a free aerobic workout every Monday,” Telthorst said, laughing as he tossed.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Archdiocesan Council of St. Louis consists of more than 3,000 volunteer members belonging to 141 parish-based chapters known as conferences.
Volunteers make home visits to provide person-to-person services, including arranging utility and prescription drug assistance and assisting with housing and transportation needs. In fiscal year 2016, the Society assisted more than 294,000 people and provided nearly more than $6.9 million in direct aid. As a Catholic lay organization, an essential part of the Society’s work is to maintain the dignity of people being served, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or age.
The goal is to be the face of Jesus in bringing His love to neighbors in need.
For information about making a financial gift, donating clothing, household goods or a vehicle, shopping at one of the thrift stores or volunteering, contact your parish conference, call (314) 881-6000 or visit www.svdpstl.org.
Donations can be made at www.svdpstlouis.org/donate. Checks can be sent to Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Archdiocesan Council of St. Louis, 1310 Papin St., St. Louis, MO 63103.
In addition to Mary Mother of the Church, five south St. Louis County parishes — Queen of All Saints, St. Catherine Laboure, Assumption, St. Simon, and St. Bernadette — contribute to the no-cost scrap metal pickup service by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at Mary Mother of the Church Parish. Kathleen and Jim Riggio, longtime members of Mary Mother of the Church, take calls for those wishing to donate metal, and provide a schedule each Monday to the men picking up the items.
In addition to environmental stewardship, the service allows the men making the pickups to visit with widowed men and women who often are in need of fellowship. Appliances that are donated but still in good working order or appliances that need minor repairs are either sold for a nominal cost or donated to people in need within the six parish boundaries or to St. Anthony of Padua Parish Food Pantry for distribution.
For information about donating scrap metal or working appliances, call (314) 614-2874.