DUNEDIN – For 60 years, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Conference has provided food and other assistance to those in need at Our Lady of Lourdes Church.
Last year, the SVDP conference distributed more than $70,000 in food and financial aid to more than 800 families.
Joan Hughes, President of Church Conference since October, has been a volunteer for three years.
“I never cease to be amazed by the community’s generosity and support,” Hughes said.
A large percentage of the organization’s funding comes from donations from parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Although the conference is celebrating its 60th anniversary, Hughes feels it is too much of a “kept secret” in the community.
“I wanted people to be aware of our services because we are more than just a pantry. People come in, know us and have a history with us,” Hughes said.
The Dunedin Conference also provides assistance to those in need and those living in poverty with emergency housing, clothing, furniture and household goods, as well as referrals to community social services.
Conference guidelines say guests can come once a month, but they never turn away anyone who needs food, Hughes said.
“Often they use what we can offer them with what Dunedin Cares has. So it’s wonderful that we have multiple pantries in our church,” Hughes said.
Phyllis Davis, a former conference president who has volunteered for the service for 18 years, said she got involved because she is a fast typist and is transitioning the conference from paper to computers and they needed someone to do the data entry.
She volunteers three or four hours a week, not as much as she used to “because Joan has moved up.”
The generosity of the community and the fact that the conference can help so many people they would never have met in their daily lives gives them the greatest satisfaction.
“We met some great people. I think I get more out of it than they do,” Davis said. “It’s very rewarding that we can help them.”
Hughes said her parents volunteered for soup kitchens.
“I was raised Catholic, so I think it was part of our tradition,” Hughes said. “Although it’s a lot of hours and a lot of service. Growing up I always thought it was fun. I really did.”
When she retired, she took the opportunity to volunteer. She lives about three blocks from Our Lady of Lourdes, which is located at 750 San Salvador Drive. The conference has around 15 volunteers and is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10am to 12pm.
“I was lucky to have the time. The first thing I wanted to do when we made this decision was to reach out to Vincent de Paul. It was very fortunate that there was a conference in my parish,” she said, “and indeed it brings me great joy.”
The conference serves people living in Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs. People living in other nearby areas seeking food or services are referred to other conferences. There are several in the Clearwater area. They all work together, Hughes said.
Hughes said visitors would not be asked many questions.
“We expect to do as much as we can if people are humble enough to come in and ask for help.”
As for food donations, spices are the most needed right now, Hughes said, because they are so rarely donated. The conference also needs cereal and breakfast items for kids, like juice boxes, breakfast bars and pop tarts.
“I would like to add canned meats (chicken, corn beef, ham) to that list. We stock frozen hamburgers and ground turkey, but we expect all meat prices to rise quickly and for an extended period of time, so long-life canned meats will be available. It’s very important that our pantry continues to provide healthy protein options for our neighbors,” Hughes wrote in an email.
Recently the Society of St Vincent de Paul Conference and the St Michael the Archangel Church Conference in Dunedin helped a woman who had been living in her car for three years. She will be moving into an apartment in about three months.
“We, as Catholics, are called to help people. But we often don’t know what that looks like or how to do it. It’s just such a really concrete way of doing it. And then the people you meet — it’s hard not to be inspired by their persistence,” Hughes said.
To donate online select St. Vincent de Paul at www.osvhub.com/ourladydunedin/giving/funds. It is not a direct link but a link to a fund page listing the SVDP and several church services. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international voluntary Catholic organization founded in Paris in 1833.
Davis said people come to the conference office in tears.
“Nine times out of ten they walk out of here and they feel so much better,” she said. “We make them laugh. God knows it could happen to any of us.”
Hughes was asked what would be ideal for a conference. She wants patrons to live with dignity and live productive lives.
“I want us to go out of business,” she said.