Those living on the bottom of society’s economic spectrum in the Fort Wayne area will soon benefit from donor generosity to an organization at the top of its game.
The Fort Wayne District of the St. Vincent de Paul Society set an ambitious goal to raise $70,000 during its Friends of the Poor Walk and Run on Sunday, October 1. It surpassed that amount, bringing in more than $72,000, which made Fort Wayne’s walk the highest grossing in the United States among more than 120 similar events across the country that involved thousands of Vincentian volunteers.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society and its walks may be national, but any money raised locally benefits the Fort Wayne community’s impoverished brothers and sisters. The basics – food, rent, utilities, transportation, furniture, and clothing – can be offered to those needing assistance. The numbers speak for themselves where impact is concerned. The most recent data from the local St. Vincent de Paul Society offers that 24,160 people were assisted with food and almost 2,200 found help in paying their rent or housing expenses, just two categories of care that the organization offers.
“This support is critical to those living in poverty in our area,” said Lara Schreck, Executive Director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Fort Wayne. “High rent and utility costs have made it difficult for local families to make ends meet, and our financial support helps prevent evictions, puts food on the table, and keeps the heat and lights on. Through person-to-person service, SVdP volunteer members share the love of Christ with their neighbors and give them hope for a better future.”
This year’s walk – the seventh in Fort Wayne – was held at Parkview Field, the same spot as the previous six. Schreck described the facility as the “perfect location.” This year, a tailgate celebration with live music and an ice cream truck was held in the parking lot before walkers or runners covered their selected routes: 3 miles, 1.25 miles, or a third of a mile. Schreck said most participants do the longest option, a route going past the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. Schreck said 225 people signed up in advance this year and estimated another 50 joined on the day of the event.
Students from Bishop Dwenger High School and the University of St. Francis volunteered to help the event run smoothly. Participation was free, with donations accepted, and T-shirts and special gifts were offered to anyone signing up in advance. This year, before his blessing of the walkers, Father Mark Gurtner, Vicar General of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and Pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope Parish in Fort Wayne, learned he had received a prize for being the most-sponsored priest in the 24 parishes of Fort Wayne’s SVdP chapter. Bishop Rhoades also made an appearance on the big screen, sending his blessings from Rome while acting as a delegate at the Synod of Bishops.
The event accomplishes more good than bolstering the bottom line.
“The goal of the Friends of the Poor Walk is to raise awareness of the poverty that exists in our community, to educate the community about our programs, and to give our volunteer members, called ‘Vincentians,’ an opportunity to gather together with family and friends,” Schreck said. “We schedule this event every year close to the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul to commemorate our patron saint’s service to the poor.”
The unifying nature of the event is another beneficial outcome. Joellen Lauer, a member at St. Charles Borromeo in Fort Wayne, walked on the team of St. Gaspar Parish in Rome City. “St. Vincent de Paul is a good cause for so many people,” she said.
St. Gaspar is the newest to join the chapter, whose leader, George Vandermeir, was asked by his parish priest to head up the parish’s chapter of St. Vincent de Paul Society. As the team enjoyed its well-organized, bountifully supplied tailgate party, Deacon Ray Krouse of St. Gaspar complimented Vandermeir’s skills. “He’s making it all work,” Krouse said.
Working at the finish line, Mary Rorick, a parishioner at St. Louis Besancon, echoed much of the event’s ideology: “God’s been good to me, and I just wanted to share His blessings.”
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