St. Vincent de Paul reorganization will focus on feeding poor
A reorganization of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County is not expected to affect those who depend on the meals served five days a week in its downtown Oakland dining room, or those in its parish-based conferences in more than half the parishes in the county.
The repurposing of the 80,000-square-foot warehouse, which the organization has owned since the early 1960s, represents a response to a change in the habits of thrift shop patrons, said Blase Bova, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County.
The model of dispatching trucks to pick up donations across the county, and bring them back to a central warehouse for sorting, then distributing them to the retail stores, has become outdated, Bova said.
The society will add staff members to sort at the retail stores, Bova said.
The thrift store at the San Leandro Street site will close. Bova said the opening of a thrift store at another site in Oakland might be considered in the future.
Also closing is Redux, a gallery and art studio space in Alameda. It opened in 2011 in a building that once housed a more traditional thrift store. With monthly shows and occasional classes that invited participants to use recycled objects in creating works of art, Redux was a non-traditional effort.
Behind the store and gallery space are artists' studios, rented by artists who displayed their work in the store and gallery.
After Redux closes, the space will be leased. One proposal under consideration is for the artists to lease the building, continue with the studios in the back, and turn the gallery space into a workspace for rent.
Income from leasing the two properties will help set St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County on firmer footing, Bova said. The organization "hasn't had a balanced budget in over a decade," Bova said.
While bequests have helped cover operating expenses, he said, St. Vincent de Paul had been "growing beyond our means."
The reorganization, he said, will add income from the leases and allow the retail stores to be profitable. It is also being designed to support those who do the work in the community, he said.
The food locker at the dining room site will still provide food for the conferences to give to those in need; store vouchers for beds and other furnishing will continue to be available. Services to the parish-based conferences will be consolidated under one department, likely Community Engagement.
In this move, it is hoped to "clearly convey to Vincentians how much we need them," Bova said.
One of the Vincentians' most visible roles in their parishes is the Bundle Sunday collection, where donations are brought to the parish on a designated Sunday. Those may continue, Bova said, by parish groups that use them to raise awareness of their ministry.
With the closure of the San Leandro Ave. site, the St. Vincent de Paul staff will be consolidated at the dining room site. At its high point, the total staff numbered 60. Currently it is in the low 50s. By the time of the consolidation, that number is expected to drop to the low 40s.
All staff members are being invited to apply for new positions that fit their skills. Employment services will be offered to those who do not find a new role, Bova said.
At the San Pablo Avenue site in Oakland, two job training programs are also facing some changes. The Kitchen of Champions, which trains food service workers in 12-week sessions, will reduce the number of students per session to provide some additional one-on-one training, Bova said,
The workforce program is being re-evaluated, he said, and some contracts with agencies will not be renewed during the reorganization period,
One contract that will be continued, Bova said, is with College of Alameda. It provides call center experience to students with disabilities.
Volunteers remain vital to St. Vincent de Paul's mission. That service is not limited to serving food in the dining room or volunteering in the thrift stores, Bova said. Ideas for new ways to volunteer are welcome, he said. A photographer donated prints for the walls of the dining room, and a landscape project could use some gardeners.
The bottom line in the reorganization, Bova said, is that those most in need of their services will still get them.
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