The atmosphere is light and cheerful despite the hot, humid weather pushing through the open garage door on a recent morning at the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Fort Wayne’s warehouse in Fort Wayne.
About a dozen people served by Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana chat, laugh, and joke with each other as they sort donated clothing based on quality and size and tag it for sale in the society’s adjacent Thrift Store.
The volunteer opportunity allows Easterseals clients, who have disabilities, to develop work experience and skills they can use to get paying jobs in the community. Their labor and enthusiasm help the St. Vincent de Paul Society staff carry out their ministry’s mission to offer hope and help to all through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
“They give us so much,” said David Till, the society’s Volunteer Coordinator and Warehouse Manager. “Without them, the store wouldn’t be where it’s at today. With three of us, we couldn’t process the amount of clothes they do. It’s a win-win situation.”
Along with Easterseals Arc, the St. Vincent de Paul Society also has developed volunteer, work-experience partnerships for clients of Benchmark Human Services in Fort Wayne and Fort Wayne Community Schools students from the FWCS Career Academy at Anthis, Till said.
All of the volunteers have disabilities. With their help, however, donated clothing gets processed quickly and out on Thrift Store racks and shelves for sale, said Till and Lara Schreck, local St. Vincent de Paul Society Executive Director. As a result, the store’s clothing sales have increased by 40 percent to 50 percent during the past six months, Schreck said.
“These groups are helping us help others!” Schreck said. Revenue from thrift store sales goes back into the community to assist people in need with food and payment of rent or utility bills.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society cares for those in need through 22 volunteer service groups at Catholic parishes throughout northeast Indiana, including operating 10 food pantries, Schreck said. The service groups provide care through face-to-face contact whenever possible, and ensure that people in need are shown love and compassion and treated with dignity.
Till said the partnerships with Easterseals, Benchmark, and FWCS date back to shortly after he started his job in 2017.
He began working then with a few students with disabilities from the FWCS Career Academy. He wasn’t sure how it would go, but the students quickly welcomed him into their group. That opened up a lot of friendly conversations and bantering among them.
The camaraderie made the work fun and encouraged Till to embrace later opportunities to partner with Easterseals and Benchmark.
“That’s how it really started pretty much, and God did the rest,” he said. “I think they are turning me back into a kid — in a good way.”
Till, a military veteran, said working with partner groups’ clients is the most-fulfilling work he’s ever done.
“It’s like the best part of my job is here,” he said of the warehouse. “I can come in in a bad mood or down mood, and they come in and my attitude changes.”
Discussions with Easterseals Arc about the volunteering
partnership began before the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, he said. Concerns related to COVID put the plans on hold until about eight months ago.
A total of about 20 Easterseals clients ages 18 and older now volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul Society warehouse on weekdays, Till said. They typically work a shift of 90 minutes to two hours.
FWCS Career Academy also has students volunteering each weekday, he said. That includes one group that brings over different crews of students in the morning and afternoon four days a week.
Volunteer workers from the partner organizations receive brief training on what to do before they begin working, Till said.
Assisting at the warehouse teaches clients to arrive on time for work and to stay on task while on the job, said Mackenzie Flaugh, an Easterseals Direct Support Professional and Job Coach. The clients sometimes get to go into the thrift store to stock shelves, where they can interact with shoppers.
In addition, Easterseals clients assist people dropping off donations and help unload mattresses and furniture, Till said.
The experience pays off, Flaugh noted. One client was hired by the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and also has applied to work at a local grocery store.
Also, “we are currently working on plans to hire one of the Easterseals participants to work at the St. Vincent de Paul Society Thrift Store after witnessing his hard work through the volunteer program,” Schreck said.
Those types of success stories mean a lot to the St. Vincent de Paul staff, she noted.
“When they are able to use the skills they have learned at the St. Vincent de Paul Society to find employment and become more independent,” she explained, “that brings joy to our volunteers and staff because we care about these individuals and want to see them succeed and reach their goals.”
Offering hope and help
St. Vincent de Paul Society of Fort Wayne offers a variety of programs to serve people in need who live in northeast Indiana. Sales at its Thrift Store in Fort Wayne help fund the work.
The Thrift Store and warehouse are located at 1600 S. Calhoun St., Fort Wayne. Store hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Warehouse donation hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The society will pick up donations of furniture and large appliances. Call 260-456-3561 for information. Donated items must be new or gently used, clean, and in working order.
For a list of accepted donation items, go to svdpsfw.org.
For information about the society’s programs or volunteering, go to the website or call 260-456-3561.
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.