Terry Chavez opens the door for a delivery, but it’s not the latest gadget from Amazon she’s expecting. Instead, a St. Vincent de Paul volunteer is delivering groceries — groceries with a dose of faith, hope and love, that is.
Chavez lives on Social Security that almost matches her rent. She doesn’t have a car either — Chavez and her daughter ride bikes to watch her grandchildren play baseball — so the delivery service is a huge help.
“When they bring out the box of food, it brings great relief to your heart and soul,” Chavez said.
She praised the work of Vincentians through home visits. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul outreach has some 6,375 volunteers throughout the Diocese of Phoenix who run 88 parish-based conferences of charity. They make home visits — some 49,525 of them last year — to deliver food boxes and assess and address other immediate needs such as rent and utility assistance.
Summer Action Hero Food Drive
Food pantries at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and its parish-based conferences often empty out during the summer months. To help ensure no one goes hungry, host a food drive or donate at the conference level or online.
Chavez recalled being nervous, embarrassed and scared the first time she reached out for help nearly four years ago. It’s not in her nature to ask for help. She didn’t seek much: rice and beans would have sufficed. Chavez said she could stretch out those ingredients.
A Vincentian from the St. Matthew conference in Phoenix noted how empty her fridge was relative to the size of her family — two sets of grandchildren and her daughter — and gave her two food boxes. Chavez has received additional food boxes over the years, including one in May, and rent assistance in April.
“I’d be lost without St. Matthew’s. At our biggest time and lowest times of life, they’ve helped us,” Chavez said.
She doesn’t anticipate needing the help much longer. She expects her daughter to pick up more work hours soon.
As their needs ebb, Charles Seps knows that requests will flow from other St. Vincent de Paul families. He is one of the original members of the St. Matthew Conference and its current treasurer. They serve 30 families a week with food boxes and can easily pay $500 in client bills.
The service part is key and is reflected in the prayer Seps offers during each home visit. He opens by thanking God for allowing the Vincentians to visit a family in need.
“God calls us to come to them. That was the connection,” Seps said. “Right away, it’s a more gracious situation.”
Ling Patty, president of the St. Gabriel Conference in Cave Creek, knows it’s also a difficult situation. The families they serve largely are seeking help for the first time or do so seasonally when their service industry hours decrease as temperatures increase.
“It’s very degrading. They’ll break down in tears [saying] ‘I don’t know where to start. I need money. I can’t pay my mortgage. Otherwise I’ll be homeless,’” Patty said.
Dolores Gallighan, vice president of the conference, said the manager of a local apartment complex regularly refers tenants to the conference. Vincentians are happy to help.
“There’s no work of charity that’s foreign to the society,” Gallighan said.
Vincentians at St. Gabriel Parish helped clients with rent, mortgage and utility payments last year.
Linda Kleo, who makes home visits as a Vincentian with her husband, Tony, realized that clients do not fit a mold. Oftentimes, difficulties begin with a simple job loss.
“They’re trying to handle this the best way they can,” Kleo said, explaining that clients sometimes try to partially pay their bills. The debt snowballs. “They need to have a fresh slate to start over. It’s not only low-income people. This is something that can happen to any one of us at any time. They lose their job, but their expenses are the same. “The conference averages $4,300 a month in aid. Vincentians credit parishioner support for the work they’re able to do and a strong partnership with the nearby Desert Foothills Food Bank that addresses each client’s food needs.
That frees up funds to support other Vincentian conferences in need. Three are in the Diocese of Phoenix and one is in Colombia.
The Sacred Heart Conference in Prescott focuses largely on providing food. Vincentians distribute what parishioners and school families donate plus what they buy on discount from St. Vincent de Paul’s food reclamation center to at least 15 families or individuals, Monday through Thursday.
Still, many conferences are in their summer slump for donations. Bob Snyder, who is in his fifth year as president of the conference, said theirs often lasts from after Easter until September.
They’re not alone. The requests for need dramatically increase at every St. Vincent de Paul location in the summer. The nonprofit hopes its “Be a Summer Action Hero” food drive will help. Donors can also go to SummerRelief.org to offer financial support.
“If they can get the feeling that someone is out there wanting to help them, then they can feel a lot more confident in the challenges that they’re facing,” Snyder said.
That’s why those home visits offering one-on-one interaction are so crucial. During a home visit by members of the St. Matthew conference, the Chavez family, clients off and on since 2010, was eager to begin giving back.
Terry Chavez is looking forward to volunteering with the American Red Cross. Her daughter, Cynthia Sanchez, continues to feed the homeless weekly. That includes one man who came to her door. Once he left, she proclaimed, “I just fed Jesus!”