Who are you? What is your mission?
I ask this question of myself and the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Juneau often. The Gospel of Sunday, August 2, tells the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes. This has new meaning in my life as General Manager of St. Vincent de Paul. Our mission is to provide material and spiritual charity and work towards social justice for all people.
St. Vincent de Paul spoke about this, “We must pass, …from affective love to effective love. And that is a love which takes flesh in works of charity, service of the poor which is undertaken with joy, constancy and tender love.” Effective love can sometimes be difficult and finding joy requires serious examination.
Sometimes joy is obvious. When I walk by our navigator office and hear someone tell me they have a place to rent and the funding to go from a homeless shelter to a place of their own, I sense his relief and happiness. The joy can turn quickly when cell phones and bank cards are lost or stolen, and weeks of work seem to be lost, but supporting the needy means helping them through good times and through tough times.
Other service organizations work with us, such as the Knights of Columbus, who held a food drive to stock the pantry shelves at St. Vincent de Paul. Restaurants that donate meals to our warming shelter and volunteers use cardboard boxes from the thrift store to recycling every Friday. All these groups and individuals help our organization run smoothly and serve those in need.
St. Vincent de Paul is also providing outreach to those who cannot travel to our offices or get free clothing from the Dan Austin Center. Our Home Visit Team checks in with those in difficult situations to meet people where they live. The team always visits in pairs, listening to the need with compassion, and providing the most appropriate aid for the situation. Working together with landlords, housing agencies, and Family Promise, they recently helped a man catch up on rent–and find a more affordable apartment for him. Due to quick action once help was requested, one less person has entered the homeless system.
It is not always the material charity that is needed. During these times of physical isolation and fear, people need to take the time to reach out to others. This can be done by assisting those who do not feel comfortable in public by shopping, checking in with a homebound neighbor, or having a conversation with someone you used to regularly see at church, community events, or the store. These are all ways to break the isolation that too many people are feeling right now.
We are social people, but health has required us to use caution in all our interactions. At St. Vincent de Paul, our offices were locked down because they are located in Smith Hall. That was done for the safety of our elderly tenants, but our interactions with clients have continued. We meet them outside. We meet them at the door. Physical distancing has not stopped us from socially serving those in need. Perhaps we are a sign of hope for some, that even with physical touching, even while wearing a mask, we can show the love and concern for our brothers and sisters.
Executive volunteer, Scot Allen told me he thinks the mission of St. Vincent de Paul should be: “We do the impossible every day.” As we provide for the needs of the neediest, it seems like miracles are needed. Sometimes they come in unexpected ways.
Small acts of charity can be everyday miracles. Little actions make a big difference in people’s lives.
Dave Ringle, General Manager,
St. Vincent de Paul, Juneau