From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

St. Vincent de Paul Society tries desperately to stay ahead of need as holidays approach

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Nov. 14, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

  • Father Gene Tracy is spiritual director for the Spokane St. Vincent de Paul Society. Father Tracy also is pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Spokane. (IR photo)
  • Left: Alex Henkle of NOVA Services brings adult handicapped volunteers to St. Vincent de Paul. At right is part-time St. Vincent volunteer Robert “Doc” Guild. St. Vincent volunteers are working feverishly to stockpile and prepare for the needs of the upcoming holiday season. (IR photo)

    Last year St. Vincent de Paul Family Service Center in Spokane distributed about 400 Christmas boxes of food.

    This year, over 900 people have signed up and director Terri Belisle confesses to be “kind of nervous” about it.

    She’s started a Christmas stash of food for the boxes, though, and hopes that by December, enough additional food will have come in to meet the need. Then her hope is that enough people will volunteer to help pack and distribute the boxes in the days before Christmas.

    The St. Vincent de Paul Society is well-known all over the world for its work with the less fortunate. The St. Vincent de Paul Society is well-known in Spokane, too, and many parishes have groups of St. Vincent Conferences to help the local Society in its work.

    The Family Service Center gathers food for its food bank. Clients whose resources run short can utilize the food bank once a month.

    Belisle said they give out about 100 boxes of food a month. By the end of the month, she said, the lines of people seeking food can be long.

    Many people who receive food have jobs but are unable to make their incomes stretch to meet their needs. Food stamps will sometimes run out before the next batch arrives.

    Most of the food distributed at St. Vincent comes from the Second Harvest Food Bank, which is a conduit for food to be given to places in Spokane County such as St. Vincent. St. Vincent also gets food from URM, a grocery wholesaler, as well as from drives held by Catholic churches or other groups.

    One area of need that becomes crucial at this time of year is energy assistance. St. Vincent provides funds to help pay fuel bills. Keeping warm can also be a matter of season-appropriate clothing; St. Vincent gives away clothes as well. Families can receive clothing four times a year, “once a season,” Belisle said.

    An additional service St. Vincent provides during the holiday season is “playing Santa” by helping children shop for Christmas gifts for their families. Starting Nov. 1, each child age six and up who comes to St. Vincent’s gets a “Vinnie Buck” worth $10. The Vinnie Bucks are redeemable at the Thrift Store, which has a special area of gifts set aside for children to choose from.

    Volunteers, one per child, help the children shop. “Youth groups, high school kids, all are welcome to lend a hand,” Belisle said. The chosen gifts are wrapped and the children are then escorted to where family members are waiting for them.

    Nearly all the people who work at St. Vincent are volunteers. Many high schools require community service and students will accrue their service hours with the Society.

    Handicapped adults are another greatly appreciated volunteer group.

    Some people volunteer frequently; others, only once a month. But no matter how many hours they can give, they are always welcome. “We always need volunteers,” Belisle said.

    The center welcomes food donations, but Belisle said the need is always greatest for for protein foods: turkeys, hams, other meats, peanut butter. “Pork and beans are good, along with the macaroni and cheese mixes and soups,” she said.

    (For more information or to volunteer, call (509) 534-2824. Cash donations are greatly appreciated as well; these can be mailed directly to St. Vincent De Paul Family Service Center, 2901 E. Trent, Spokane, WA 99202.)

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