This article was updated Sept. 17 to reflect removal of a participation fee.
A single mother landed a job and moved from a shelter for the homeless into her own apartment. A positive step toward independence and financial stability.
Until her first paycheck, though, she was going to need a little help with food and household furnishings. She found the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a volunteer took her information anyway, and by the next day food and clothes had been delivered. Dedicated St. Vincent de Paul Society volunteers were also shopping for the materials needed to build her sons two sets of bunk beds.
“To alleviate poverty by offering hope as well as help to all through the guidance of the Holy Spirit”: that’s the mission of an expansive network of services for the poor provided by the 23 parish-based conferences of the Fort Wayne Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Food, clothing, home furnishings, utilities assistance and more — nothing necessary for Northeast Indiana individuals and families to thrive is beyond the organization’s consideration.
The ability of the society to act in ways that lift families out of poverty is largely dependent on volunteers and donations. Both, organizers hope, will come together Sept. 27 in what stands to become the society’s largest annual fundraising event: The fourth annual Friends of the Poor Walk/Run at Parkview Field, Fort Wayne.
This year, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades will join the throng of walkers who gather at the downtown Fort Wayne baseball stadium and head out on a 3-mile walk through the local neighborhood.
Entry is free to participate in the Friends of the Poor Walk/Run and participants can be sponsored by an unlimited number of people interested in aiding the mission of the St. Vincent de Paul Society through their effort.
The walk begins at 2 p.m., with on-site registration and check-in beginning at 1 p.m. Many walkers are already registered online, however. To join Bishop Rhoades as a walker, visit https://www.fopwalk.org/event/2493. To sponsor him, visit https://www.fopwalk.org/walker/54804.
Stories like the single mother’s happen every day at the Fort Wayne Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said Executive Director Lara Schreck. The society’s parish chapters extend from Fort Wayne north and south, and as far west as Syracuse. Every day, those in need seek out their generous time and services, which include but are never limited to food pantries, financial assistance, minor home repairs, furniture construction or acquisition, clothing, transportation to appointments, nursing home visits, funeral home visitation and Christmas help for families.
Because the Christ-inspired work of over 500 St. Vincent de Paul Society volunteers is free, the agency has little overhead. Nearly all of the funds collected from the Friends of the Poor Walk/Run go directly to food, clothing and other resources for those in need, whether Catholic or not, in Northeast Indiana communities. Last year, more than 20,000 people sought assistance of one kind or another through St. Vincent de Paul Society programs and conferences.
Best of all, perhaps, is that the walk is a way generous donors can take care of those suffering economic hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Walkers themselves will be provided with hand sanitizer and will enjoy the greater safety of being outdoors. Social distancing and mask wearing will still be encouraged. Virtual walks or runs are encouraged as well for individuals or conferences that cannot attend the one at Parkview Field.
A mission moment
FORT WAYNE — A young woman named Brittany came into the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store one morning and her eyes sparkled with joy. She rushed up to the front-end store manager and excitedly shared that she has been sober for six and a half months. She was just released from house arrest and had obtained a new job as a prep cook at a local restaurant. For the first time, she was actually able to purchase the items she needed from the Thrift Store. She said she felt like her life was finally turning around for the first time in a long time, and she wanted to share that happiness with the staff members right away.
Brittany has received help through the SVDP Society Voucher Program on a consistent basis over the past two years, getting the clothing, household goods and furniture items she needed free of charge. She always looked forward to coming back to the thrift store, she said, not just to receive these essential items, but also to receive emotional and spiritual support from staff members, especially Jealean. Brittany shared, “When everything else in my life was falling apart, I felt like the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store was the only place where people still cared about me.” Jealean would set aside special items for Brittany in anticipation of her next visit, like inspirational stories and spiritual readings. She spent time listening to Brittany’s experiences and prayed for her well-being on a regular basis. Jealean kept telling Brittany, “Keep your head up. Things will get better!” The kindness and compassion Brittany received at the Thrift Store gave her the strength to battle her addictions and feel hopeful again.
The St. Vincent de Paul Voucher Program provides so much more than free household items. Yes, it helps brothers and sisters in Christ survive their immediate crisis situations, but it also brings hope in the midst of the darkness through the grace of God, with the caring support of dedicated staff members and volunteers.
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