The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded by Blessed Frederic Ozanam as the “Conference of Charity” and given a very simple mission: assist the poor.
The name was quickly changed to honor the group’s patron saint, but the purpose has remained the same for 180 years.
Greg Flach, acting president of the Diocesan Council of Charleston, said the society puts an emphasis on the personal touch and sends two members to visit in the homes of those in need. They go to see how they can assist financially, but a secondary goal is to help with emotional and spiritual needs too.
Flach said anyone can participate, even if they can’t give financially. He encourages people of all ages to look around their neighborhood for those in need. Maybe someone’s yard is overgrown, or the house needs minor repairs or cleaning.
“Sometimes people are lonely and just need a friend,” he said. “Be the face of Christ.”
Dr. Mariano La Via, a member of the Charleston society, explains that they never give money directly to a person, although they do help pay electric bills through the utility, provide food, maybe assist with a prescription or a tank of gas.
Of course, in order to help they need resources.
La Via said St. Vincent de Paul always wants to do more for people during the holidays, but are facing a critical shortage.
“Right now our pantry is bare,” he said.
Part of the problem is cuts to the food stamp program that started in November, resulting in more people who need help feeding their families.
Winter is also harder because of higher utility bills, and after Christmas there tends to be a lull in giving.
St. Vincent de Paul does all they can to keep overhead to the barest minimum, La Via said.
Everyone involved with the group is a volunteer, and the spaces they use for food pantries are donated and operated by area parishes, so there are no bills to pay. For every donation, 99.9 percent goes to the poor.
La Via said the No. 1 way people can help is to give financially. The more generous they can be, the better, but he emphasizes that even a dollar helps.
When parishioners see St. Vincent de Paul members at church holding big, yellow donation bags, he encourages everyone to give every time. He said donating a dollar is usually a small amount for the person giving, but it adds up to help many in need.
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