‘Serve Christ in the Needy’: Indianapolis to host national St. Vincent de Paul meeting

By John Shaughnessy

You rarely hear the ever-humble Don Striegel brag, and you rarely see burly Jake Asher cry. Yet both men show those sides when they talk about a special national meeting in the archdiocese on Labor Day weekend.

The 92nd national meeting of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will be held in Indianapolis from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2—the first time the Indianapolis council has ever hosted the event.

For Asher, it will be an opportunity to focus the spotlight on the mission that binds the 600,000 international members of the Catholic service organization that is dedicated to helping the needy.

“We’re called to take God’s Word to the people and give them hope,” said Asher, the president of the organization’s Indianapolis council. “I remember one time making a home visit that still leaves me in tears. The mother told me her son didn’t want to go to school the next day. I said, ‘Why?’

“She said, ‘His socks have holes in them. He’s embarrassed.’ I went to Target and gave him some socks. He was so happy. I felt that’s why God sent me on the call. If a simple thing like three pairs of socks helped him, imagine what we do when we provide food, furniture and other things for people.”

For Striegel, the national meeting will be an opportunity to showcase the local organization’s unusual distribution center and a new, expanded food pantry that is expected to open later this year—part of an effort that provides free furniture, appliances and food to about 50,000 low-income families in the Indianapolis area each year.

“We’ll be promoting our programs to other people—bragging, if you will,” said a smiling Striegel, the co-chairperson of the national meeting’s planning committee. “We’ll have tours of our facilities. Our distribution center for furniture and appliances is one of the few free distribution centers in the country, and probably the largest. People are really amazed that we’re able to get enough funding to provide items for the needy free of charge.”

Another tour will feature the new, expanded food pantry facility at 3001 E. 30th St. in Indianapolis. When it opens, the facility will allow the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to double the number of families it can provide food for each week—from 1,500 to 3,000. The current food pantry is at 2111 E. Spann Ave. in Indianapolis.

“It’s a client-choice pantry, where the clients pick out the food they want,” said Striegel, a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. “Before we opened it in 1999, the typical food pantry would give people two bags of food. A study showed that in that type of operation, 40 percent of the food will not be used. We let them choose. We also buy meats and dairy products for people to choose.”

The society also buys about 25 washers, gas stoves and refrigerators a week, which they distribute free to supplement the appliances that people donate.

Another distinctive characteristic of the organization is that all of its 1,400 members are volunteers. Even its president, Asher, isn’t paid—at least not in money.

“I’ve been involved since 1978,” said Asher, 61, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis. “I’ve been retired five years after working 37 years for the Chrysler Corporation. I have grown spiritually by doing this. I get a lot of satisfaction working with other volunteers. They’re very dedicated, wonderful human beings.”

The leaders of those volunteers—about 135,000 volunteers in the country, according to Striegel—will come to Indianapolis for a meeting that will feature the theme, “Our Journey Together,” and the organization’s mission, “Serve Christ in the Needy.”

During the meeting, the society’s recently elected national president, Joe Flannigan of East Brunswick, N. J., will share his plans for leading the United States council for the next six years.

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein will celebrate Mass with the group at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 2 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis.

The meeting will also showcase the debut of the national organization’s mobile kitchen, a semi-trailer-sized kitchen that can be transported to any area of the country to help the needy after major disasters, including hurricanes, floods and tornados.

It’s just another way of trying to make a difference, Asher said.

“People ask, ‘Why do you keep doing this?’ ” he said. “I sometimes think, ‘This could be me on the other side.’ Besides, a lot of people appreciate what we do.

“There’s always something that keeps you going. God has a job for you. His work is never done.” †


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