October 29, 2010

More volunteers needed to supply food, appliances and hope

Society of St. Vincent de Paul serves more families than ever

Betty Farrell sorts donated clothing on Oct. 7 at the St. Vincent de Paul Distribution Center in Indianapolis. A member of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, Farrell is the volunteer manager of the facility. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Betty Farrell sorts donated clothing on Oct. 7 at the St. Vincent de Paul Distribution Center in Indianapolis. A member of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, Farrell is the volunteer manager of the facility. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Special to The Criterion

When Clarence Hirsch retired from Eli Lilly and Company in 1993, the Indianapolis resident intended to spend most of his time jogging, swimming and playing tennis.

He has since learned that the most satisfying use of his time comes in helping others—a bond that he shares with other people who donate their time and talents to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Indianapolis.

Hirsch is now one-third of the management team at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, located at 3001 E. 30th St. in Indianapolis. Typically, he volunteers three days a week at the food pantry.

“First of all, it’s easy to see the benefits of the work you do, giving encouragement to and getting it from the people [that] we serve,” says the member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis.

“Since we opened, the number of people we serve has grown by leaps and bounds. Our deliveries to the homebound, for example, began with about a dozen people and now we’re up to nearly 290 every week. As recently as January of 2007, we served 1,200 families who shopped at the pantry every week. Now it’s more than 3,000. A lot of our increase is due to word-of-mouth, helped along by the economy.”

Hirsch is moved by the humility of the clients who receive food from the pantry.

“I hate to see people express any embarrassment at taking our food,” he says. “That’s what we’re here for. Our mission is supplemental. We can take the pressure off their expenditures for food so they can take what other resources they have to spend on other basics that we can’t help them with.”

His main concern deals with the future leadership of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

“I’d like to see younger people commit to one day a week here, to get to know the organization, understand our mission and work toward a management role,” he says.

Betty Farrell has volunteered for the society for 27 years. She manages the St. Vincent de Paul Distribution Center, located at 1201 E. Maryland St. in Indianapolis. She supervises a wide spectrum of volunteers and their activities, ranging from sorters of donated clothing to handymen who check household appliances to be re-distributed.

Energized by her 50-hour work weeks, Farrell credits a loyal group of volunteers who give regularly of their time to make the Saturday morning visit a good experience for the clients, many of whom line up in the wee hours to get the furniture, bedding and appliances which—after a home visit to verify the need—are distributed at no charge.

“I love working, and I like to see people,” says the member of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis. “I enjoy organizing and making this place look as nice as we can.”

There is a lot to organize, including donated reusable appliances, furniture, mattresses, clothing and household essentials, such as dishes, pots and pans, utensils and linens.

The needs of clients have stayed the same through the years, but the age of the clients has changed, Farrell notes.

“Now it’s a younger group of people we serve,” she says.

There is also a need for more people to assist in the outreach.

“We have a need for volunteers, especially for truck drivers and helpers who go out on Saturday mornings and make the collection pick-ups,” she says. “It’s disappointing to the people we serve who get their hopes up about getting a stove or refrigerator only to find that we’ve exhausted our supply by the time their number is called [on Saturday morning].”

Therese Marie Howell agrees with Farrell about the increase in the number of younger people shopping at the food pantry in order to feed their families.

“The economy has affected people lower on the age scale, but further up on the economic scale,” says Howell, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis. “The people who are coming in are, well, just like me.”

She volunteers three days a week, splitting her time between the food pantry and the distribution center. She is also a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Speaker’s Bureau, making presentations to groups and organizations about the work of the society.

“The reason I do it is a very selfish one,” Howell says. “I have met a wonderful group of people whom I consider as friends. They happen to be in an unfortunate situation and need our help. Many of the people [that] I’ve met, I’d like to get to know outside of the pantry or distribution center. I don’t see them as ‘clients.’ I see them as my neighbors.”

(The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is in need of volunteers. The critical need at the distribution center is for Saturday morning work, especially for truck drivers and helpers. The biggest need at the food pantry is for help on Monday through Friday to sort food and assist shoppers. Log on to www.svdpindy.org for specific opportunities. The society is experiencing a severe shortage of re-usable appliances. Call 317-687-1006 or visit the website to arrange a Saturday pick-up of your donated items.)

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