Modern-day lay Vincentians continue to carry out charitable acts inspired by Saint Vincent de Paul

Story and Photos by Jerry Circelli

Correspondent

North Texas Catholic

All in a day’s work. Vincentians from St. Bartholomew Church in Southwest Fort Worth gather for a photo after transporting and unloading 6,000 pounds of food at their local distribution pantry. In the front row from left to right are: Jim Groh, Ron Thompson, Gerald Reyelts. In the back row from left to right are: Joe Johnson, Dan Flores, Bert Webb, Frank Gorg, Bob Adams, and Chuck Ward.

Following the morning crew’s stocking of shelves, the Vincentians from St. Bartholomew Church in Southwest Fort Worth take over to distribute food at their Fort Worth pantry. Vincentians include (from left to right) Kum Ho, Richard Friedman, Sister Yolanda Piñeda, MCSH, Maggie Friedman, Nancy Matus, Joyce Ho, and Patricia Crews.

In the sprawling Diocese of Fort Worth, which includes 710,000 faithful, the 580 dedicated volunteers involved in the local Society of Saint Vincent de Paul make up less than .1 percent of the Catholic population. Their impact on North Texas communities, however, is enormous.

These dedicated lay Vincentians work quietly and tirelessly at 11 of the diocese’s 93 parishes helping to feed nearly 50,000 people each year with food valued at more than $427,000.

Last year, Vincentians personally made nearly 900 home visits to improve the lives of about 3,000 family members. The home visits have distinguished the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul from many other charitable organizations. Society members meet with individuals in the comfort of their own homes and apartments to assess their needs.

The Vincentians also offered about $340,000 in financial assistance to help people with rent, utility bills, food assistance, and other basic living needs. Donations came mainly from Catholics at parishes associated with Saint Vincent de Paul conferences.

In addition, the society also offered assistance to North Texas families last year after tornados damaged their homes. In the course of their work each year, local Vincentians travel more than 48,000 miles and donate more than 22,000 hours of service.

“We could get even more done if we had more people,” said Rozanne Veeser, Society of Saint Vincent de Paul Fort Worth District Council president.

The local council is divided into conferences that have been established at 11 parishes in the diocese.

“Ideally we should have a conference in every parish, so the whole diocese is covered with the opportunity for aid if people need it,” said Veeser. “We are trying to serve the public, and we are trying to live the Beatitudes. So, it’s important that we have this kind of service everywhere.”

The conference, or parish level of the organization, said Veeser, is the “building block” of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. “It’s where the work gets done and where the charity begins,” she said.

A case in point is the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul food pantry at St. Bartholomew Church in Southwest Fort Worth.

On a recent Wednesday morning, just before sunrise, about a half dozen men, most of them retired, busied themselves for the arrival of several pick-up trucks being driven by fellow Vincentians. The trucks’ payloads would contain food from the Tarrant Area Food Bank and several local grocery stores. Within a few hours of the trucks’ arrivals, the men unloaded 6,000 pounds of food that included breads, pastries, canned soups, frozen meats, fresh carrots, cabbage, grapefruit, and large sacks of potatoes.

After they unloaded the food and stocked the shelves at the church pantry building, the men headed down the road for coffee and burritos. The work break and fellowship was filled with a lot of good-natured ribbing. Then they headed off to a nearby grocery store to pick up yet another truckload of food.

“We’re blessed,” said Ron Thompson, president of the society’s St. Bartholomew Conference. “Everybody is here because they want to be. Nobody gets paid. They’re just blessed by what they do.”

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Vincentian Dan Flores unloads food from a truck to bring to the society’s food pantry at St. Bartholomew.

Later in the afternoon, another crew of about a dozen Vincentians from St. Bartholomew arrived to dispense the food to those in need.

Sister Yolanda Piñeda, MCSH, from St. Bartholomew was among the volunteers. As the sister held the door open for departing visitors stocked with grocery carts full of food, she offered a warm “God bless you,” to each of them. She also asked them to pray for the volunteers and those who generously give the food.

Thankful food recipients expressed their gratitude to Sr. Yolanda and the other Vincentians.

“I never thought I’d be in a position like this,” one of the pantry visitors told the North Texas Catholic. “But I’m very grateful for what these people have done for me.”

Another visitor expressed his appreciation, explaining that he recently lost his job and is looking for a way to make ends meet while searching for employment. He said the food pantry operated by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul fulfills an immediate need. “It’s been a great comfort knowing that it’s here,” he said of the pantry. “It’s been a great blessing to me.” The visitor pledged to give back and help others, as he said he has done in the past, just as soon as he can regain some financial footing.

In all, about 700 people receive food from this pantry each week, thanks to the generous parishioners at St. Bartholomew and the helping hands of about 75 Vincentians.

Thompson, who has been involved with the society for about 10 years, including six as St. Bartholomew’s conference president, said serving the local community and honoring God are one and the same.

“We’re a Church, and we believe that we’re called by our faith to help others,” Thompson said. “We’re called to help our neighbors and to help those in need.

“The primary mission of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is to grow in your faith, and from that growth in your faith comes the need to help people. That’s our perspective. You grow in your faith, and you feel the need and the call to help other people.”

In addition to the St. Bartholomew food pantry, the society operates other food distribution centers, including one at St. Jude Parish in Mansfield and one at St. Matthew Parish in Arlington. Smaller food pantries and food closets operate out of other churches in the diocese.

In the northwest part of the diocese, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul has established a 50-year reputation operating a popular and practical thrift store in Wichita Falls.

It is operated by Vincentians from conferences at Sacred Heart and Our Lady Queen of Peace Churches.

Since 1957, the Saint Vincent de Paul Thrift Store has been a place where people have donated household items and clothing. The items are then resold to the public. Profits are used by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul to serve those in need. From assistance with utility bills, housing, food, medicine, and myriad other needs, the society has put the funding to good use for the past six decades.

Bob Brady, who serves as president of the society’s Wichita Falls District Council, said that about 20 Vincentians staff the store, which is open four days a week.

Brady, quite literally, grew up a Vincentian. Some of his earliest recollections include traveling around with his father on Society of Saint Vincent de Paul home visits. “I just tagged along,” Brady said. He recalled many times when the local priest would call on his father to coordinate outreach in the community. Brady said he was proud of his father and the help he offered to those who were having financial difficulties and personal problems.

In high school, during the mid-1970s, Brady began helping his father with the heavy lifting, often going out with him to pick up donated sofas, mattresses, tables, large appliances, and other household items for the local Saint Vincent de Paul thrift store.

The elder Brady served as president of the society’s Wichita Falls District Council from 1957 until he passed away in 2006. His son was elected to the position in 2006 and carries on the tradition of helping others to this day.

“I’m just following in his footsteps,” Brady said.

Another local Catholic, Ralph Hassel, has a long history of being involved with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and has held many leadership positions.

He said the relationships Vincentians have forged with their neighbors and the humble way they go about serving others is like a page taken right out of Scripture.

“The way I see it,” Hassel said, “it’s the way Christ wanted us to relate with people. What we have or what we don’t have doesn’t have any relationship to who we are. We’re showing Christ’s love to others. And every day, they’re showing his love back to us. That’s really what this is all about.”

For more information on the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, visit: www.svdpfw.org. Or call (817) 595-6520.

In the sprawling Diocese of Fort Worth, which includes 710,000 faithful, the 580 dedicated volunteers involved in the local Society of Saint Vincent de Paul make up less than .1 percent of the Catholic population. Their impact on North Texas communities, however, is enormous.

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