While the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a Catholic charity, it is different from Catholic Charities.
But just as Catholic Charities does, it helps anyone in need, without regard to religious affiliation.
“We are the ones who are connected with the poor," says Amy Aschemeier, diocesan council president of the Toledo society of St. Vincent de Paul. "We often go out and visit with people at their homes. So it's not just about soup kitchens or thrift stores” or food banks, which local St. Vincent de Paul organizations, called conferences, have in their parishes, she said. the strength of the Vincentians is at the church level, she added.
The Vincentians refer people to Catholic Charities for services not covered by St. Vincent de Paul, such as temporary housing; and Catholic Charities sends people to the Society when the needs are what St. Vincent de Paul addresses, like direct emergency financial assistance. “You have to work together,” siad Mrs. Aschemeier.
“I think it's the home visit that is our primary distinction [from Catholic Charities], and the fact that we really work in small, what you'd almost call intentional communities or small faith communities in a parish,” said Sheila Gilbert of Indianapolis, president of the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul, who spoke to Toledo Vincentians in November at their annual meeting. “We have three essential elements. The first is spirituality. The second is friendship, which is why we gather together. And the third is service. So we're doing all three.” And they do that with unpaid volunteers.
John Saggese, the local representative of the Society's Voice of the Poor advocacy work, said he is originally from Little Flower Parish, which has an active St. Vincent de Paul conference that has about 40 to 50 people working in it. the conference is open Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to noon. "We provide groceries; distribute clothing, toys for kids, furniture to help people get settled; and we provide direct financial assistance for assistance with rent, keeping utilities on, pharmaceuticals, and transportation. We do that on an ongoing, everyday basis.”
Little Flower's work is basically what conferences do, Mrs. Aschemeier said.
St. Vincent de Paul has thrift shops in North Baltimore and Tiffin. A Toledo thrift store operated on Washington Street from 1946 into 2010. A new store in Toledo is “a high priority,” Mrs. Aschemeier said. “I get calls all the time, I get priests who ask me, and I tell them we want to do it, but we want to do it the right way. I never want to see another one close down.”
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul began in 1833 in Paris, founded by Frederic Ozanam. It came to St. Louis, Mo., in 1845, and started in Toledo in 1874. There are now about 800,000 members, called Vincentians, around the world.
In the Toledo diocese last year, conferences helped 110,000 people, with the aid of 700 volunteers, and expenditures of less than $800,000, Mrs. Aschemeier said.
The organization is committed to ending poverty and making systemic change, Mrs. Gilbert said. “We don't know God's timetable for doing that, but we know that we're called right now to supplement what we have been doing. We'll always do the direct service, but we're beginning to look at that direct service as the doorway that helps us get into lives, build relationships, to find out what the real barriers are and the real assets that a person has and how can we help them overcome the barriers and really be able to capitalize on their assets.
“Once the immediate need has been taken care of, we would like to assist people and advance people in the fulfillment of their God-given abilities, and that's what systemic change is all about,” Mr. Saggese said. “It's moving beyond just the emergency needs.”
For the Society's needs, Mr. Saggese said, “We're not just putting our hand out and saying give us money. There are many ways to contribute: through time, use of your resources, picking people up and driving them to the drugstore so they can get the medicine they need, helping stock the shelves of the food pantry. We're not asking for money; we're asking for something more important -- people's time and heart.”