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November 21, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA
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Helping serve at the SVdP dining room at the Family Resource Center in Pittsburg, from left, are Bridget Teranen, Jim Noe, Anne Sarazen, Anne Louise Van Hoomissen, Tom Judson and Mary Ellen Judson.

Vincentian volunteers rack up charitable efforts

The grace and love of St. Vincent de Paul in Contra Costa County can be seen in the faces of two people, Chris and Jim.

Chris was his family's breadwinner, yet unable to land a job. So he enrolled in SVdP's Workforce Development program, learning key skills he needed to be successful in the workforce. But Chris faced a further barrier he wasn't able to overcome — his near-total lack of teeth. His inability to smile normally thwarted his ability to land a job.

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Thanksgiving Day is "the one day we're blessed with good numbers of volunteers," said Blase Bova, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County.

That leaves more than 200 days a year when volunteers would be most welcome at its Free Dining Room on San Pablo Avenue at 23rd Street in Oakland. The dining room serves 800 meals a day, at mid-day, Tuesdays through Saturdays, to men and women, young and old alike.

If serving food in the dining room doesn't meet a potential volunteer's schedule, there are plenty of other ways to support the efforts to help the poor in Alameda County, he said.

This holiday season, for example, you're likely to find donation barrels for St. Vincent de Paul in workplaces, as well as church vestibules.

The holiday season offers an opportunity to engage people in the work of St. Vincent de Paul. Businesses are invited to participate in a food, coat and gift drive.

The gift drive will continue through Christmas Day; the food and coat drive will continue through January, Bova said.

For the food drive, the emphasis is on high-protein food, such as peanut butter, canned tuna and chicken and beans. Sturdy containers will hold up best.

Businesses wishing to participate in the drives are invited to call St. Vincent de Paul at 510-638-7600.

The good news this holiday season is that St. Vincent de Paul's commitment to serving the poor among us remains strong.

The Alameda County organization is in the midst of a restructuring plan. The warehouse on San Leandro Avenue in Oakland has been closed. Its tenants, The Reuse People and Habitat for Humanity, have taken much of the space St. Vincent de Paul used, and a tenant for the remaining space is being sought.

Rental income from that site, and from the now-closed Redux site in Alameda, will provide income for St. Vincent de Paul. The Redux site is being reconfigured from retail to office space, and the organization awaits word from the city of Alameda on what work needs to be completed to accomplish that. The artist-tenants remain on site. The retail space is expected to be converted into mobile workspace.

Retail stores in Fremont and Livermore remain open, and donations are accepted at those sites, Bova said.

St. Vincent de Paul has scaled back its workforce programs for about the next 10 months, Bova said.

The Kitchen of Champions, he said, is adjusting to a smaller number of trainees, Bova said. The organization now expects to graduate six students per eight-week session. A workforce development program conducted in conjunction with the College of Alameda continues to help build job skills for students with visual impairment and other disabilities.

In moving all the jobs to the San Pablo Avenue site, employees applied for positions. Four employees were unable to find new placements, Bova said.

"We are doing a lot with fewer staff," Bova said. "People are pretty busy."
Jim Noe is a 30-year Vincentian volunteer, who worked with Chris in the SVdP training program, where he saw Chris's dental barrier. So Noe went further and was able to obtain dental help for him. Chris soon was able to get back into the workforce.

After that experience with seeing dental problems of the poor, Noe went deeper, hunting for more comprehensive solutions. As a result SVdP partnered with La Clinica to set up a dental program that now helps the uninsured.

The dental clinic was the third service partnership Noe helped establish at SVdP. In Noe's first effort he linked SVdP with Loaves and Fishes to organize a daily dining room that now serves 34,000 meals each year. Then Noe collaborated with RotaCare Bay Area to set up a free medical clinic for the poor that now has provided more than 7,000 patient visits for the uninsured.

Until recently Noe headed the Contra Costa SVdP District Council. The countywide council is the umbrella structure for nearly 700 volunteers organized in 27 parish-based conferences. Noe and the other volunteers reach people struggling in their own communities virtually everywhere in Contra Costa County.

The quiet-speaking Noe says "I believe it is the deepest human instinct to want to find the particular solutions that will help each person resolve their problems.

"My service to the community is a reflection of my deep belief that to follow Christ and to be Catholic, you have to be of service to others, to lift up people who need help."

This month Noe's three decades of volunteer charity work was recognized by the East Bay Leadership Council and the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy, who gave him the Contra Costa Lifetime Achievement Award.

SVdP Contra Costa is an energetic, faith-motivated community that takes each struggling person as they are and tries to give them love, hope and help. Last year Contra Costa's Vincentians served people in need more than 160,000 times. (A similar SVdP council serves Alameda County residents).

The Vincentians provided food 112,000 times to hungry people and clothing 11,000 times. Often they find creative ways to help; such as the Immaculate Heart conference in Brentwood, which tills a garden of charity. Its bounty provides fresh vegetables for people in need.

Vincentians helped other people in need with rent, utilities and transportation.

Home visits are SVdP's most common way to assess needs and figure how to provide meaningful help that addresses their individual needs. Different combinations of help often are tailored to the specific needs of the person.

Some needs are best addressed with countywide services, coordinated from the SVdP Family Resource Center in Pittsburg, which includes the dining room, medical and dental clinic. It also operates a daytime drop-in center where 600 people in homeless families find warmth and safety on cold winter days.

The center's job training program enrolls people unable to find jobs and gives tdhem the knowledge and confidence to become self-supporting once again.

Two thrift stores (Pleasant Hill and Pittsburg) provide goods at low prices and also provide some employment.

Nor does SVdP's help end with physical needs.

Last year Vincentians assisted people who sought spiritual assistance more than 700 times.

How do Vincentians do such a wide range of charitable efforts?

Thirty-year Vincentian Noe says simply, "It is with Christ as my foundation, and my family as my support that I am able to serve."

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