FORT WAYNE — The needs of families and the poor during the COVID-19 pandemic are being eased by multiple St. Vincent de Paul Society conferences, parishes and suppliers in the Fort Wayne area who are working together with joy and purpose. The 22 conferences in the District of St. Vincent de Paul Society of Fort Wayne are finding creative ways to help those experiencing difficulty meeting physical needs during the crisis.
Seven St. Vincent de Paul food pantries are allowing clients to come pick up food to help feed their families. The Vincentians pull food from the pantries and deliver it clients who cannot get to the pickup site.
Community Harvest Food Bank vouchers are being provided to clients who live near a conference that does not have a food pantry.
At some parishes, a combination of the above two efforts happen.
Outlying St. Vincent de Paul conferences, such as Auburn, are purchasing Walmart or Kroger gift cards to allow clients to purchase food at grocery stores.
Some conferences are conducting parish food drives due to high local need. St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Angola, for example, asked for donated food dropped off in the entryway of the church recently to avoid personal contact.
The St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store on South Calhoun Street in Fort Wayne is the only recipient of a large local retailer’s regular donations of food, water, diapers, toilet paper and other necessities. Those items are delivered primarily to St. Peter and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception food pantries and consist of things parishes typically haven’t been able to get their hands on since the pandemic hit the U.S., including laundry detergent and toilet paper.
Tim Fagan, manager of the thrift store, said that although it feels good to be part of so much that is going on to help others, “it makes me feel like I wish we were able to do more. That’s our obligation, to take care of who we can take care of.
“Lots of organizations are doing what we’re doing, and hopefully between us we can take care of them,” Fagan said. “People are burning through their savings, and from our standpoint, that’s when you treat them with dignity. You don’t ask why they need help. It’s what all organizations who do what we do should do, what St. Vincent would do, and what Jesus would do.”
A voucher system operated by the St. Vincent de Paul Society allows those who have needs beyond food and toiletries to obtain them as well. Clothing, furniture and other urgent items are still being provided to the store which, although closed, is supplying them to clients.
If a parish is approached by someone with such a need, it can issue a voucher that will make the item free at the thrift store. Behind the scenes, the conference splits the cost of the item with the referring parish – except in the case of clothing, in which case the referring parish pays nothing.
Pickup times for items are scheduled for clients, or the items can be delivered if clients have no way to pick them up.
One of the largest charitable organizations in the world, the St. Vincent de Paul Society is an international, nonprofit Catholic lay organization of more than 800,000 men and women who voluntarily join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to the needy and suffering in 150 countries on five continents.
The local first conference was organized at St. Patrick Church in February 1944. The Fort Wayne District made 10,874 person-to-person visits to homes, prisons, hospitals and nursing homes that year to give spiritual support and to evaluate the needs of the poor whom they serve.
Seven core programs that help to serve the poor of the greater Fort Wayne community include: thrift stores in Fort Wayne and Decatur, a voucher program that provides free furniture and clothing, a Care Van that transports the needy to medical appointments, a wood shop that builds bunk beds and dressers at a nominal fee, food program, jail ministry and handyman group. Last fiscal year, the society helped 46,803 people by giving out $852,342 worth of household items, clothing, food and financial aid.
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