Vincentians

From Sister Noreen – August 2020

From Sister Noreen – August 2020 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Vincentian Friends,

Five months into the pandemic of the COVID-19 Virus, we are experiencing the truth that “life has changed, not ended!”  That phrase, often used in our Catholic funeral rites, has special meaning even for us who live and still breathe each day.

I remember well the rainy Lenten March day when Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony and proclaimed to the world through television, that this worldwide pandemic is not God’s judgement on humanity; he said it is God’s loving call to do what is important, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not, to get our priorities straight and to live differently.

So, how’s it going for you, dear friends? From experience with Conference life, and the special works of the SVDP stores, the Matchan Nutrition Food Program, and even our Ozanam Summer Camp for Kids, life as it was is certainly changed, but not ended!

In meetings by ZOOM, or by social distancing with masks in place, prayer, and reflection as well as opportunities to share with one another in friendship are still key elements in our lives as Vincentians.  If we have just gone on to get the “business” done because we thought we were in a short-term pandemic, we need to put that thought to rest.

Has your opening prayer become just the rote exercise that leads into “the business” part of why you are meeting? Do eyes rolls when the President invites the Spiritual Reflection?  If yes, it is time to try praying and reflecting differently! There is no doubt that Vincentians do wonderful and generous service in loving our neighbors, but our primary purpose is to grow in holiness and friendship as we love and serve our neighbors.

In future Conference Connection articles, I hope to suggest some practical ways this could happen. How about a coming Spiritual Reflection being a listening experience as each one is invited to share briefly what has been the blessing in this pandemic time. As each one finishes, all could respond, “Thanks be to God or Praise God!” Another time the reflection could be sharing what has been the burden, the challenge, or a great concern they have during this time? A prayer response could be something like, “Come Holy Spirit.”  Be creative. If you have many folks in your meeting, invite some to share and ask the others to do their piece next time. (This heart sharing should not be a speech or discussion, just some brief thoughts from the heart that others may receive reverently.)

In prayer with you!
Sister Noreen Ellison, SC

This Might Just Be an Opportunity

This Might Just Be an Opportunity 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

This Just Might be an Opportunity….

We have been through some pretty rough times lately. We have seen the worst in some people’s behavior and we have seen the best to the very best in others. We have seen folks come together to fight an invisible virus and exercise their constitutional right to peacefully protest racial injustice.

We have also seen some folks try to mislead, misappropriate the issues, and misinform. Countless millions have lost their opportunity at gainful employment that sustains them and their families. The virus’s impact in terms of racial and age disparity is astounding and the cause of great sadness and sorrow for thousands of families. In times like these we cling to the values we hold near and dear as the foundation of our democracy is challenged and our values and ideals are put to the test.

We are members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that has as its mission to be “A network of friends, inspired by gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relationships with and service to people in need”.

We strive to help our neighbors in need to escape the pain of poverty, the frustration of despair, the fear of not being able to make it. Our friends are hurting and as this pandemic wears on many are losing hope that things will get better.

We have an opportunity to engage with others to make sure our neighbors don’t feel abandoned.

The event impacting our society today present us with an opportunity to work collaboratively with each other and our neighbors in need to make systemic changes that will renew a sense of hope and empowerment in our neighbors in need.

We can engage in a variety of activities that can bring needed change for those living in poverty. We have this opportunity because we know how to listen, visit with and walk with our neighbors in need. We can write letters to our elected officials demanding the change policies that are causing the fear and the pain of being in poverty. Policies that allow banks to fund payday lenders to charge exorbitant interest rates that lead to ensuring the neighbor in need cannot escape causing even more despair, and fear and exhaustion. This payday extortion keeps people down and out. It a form of discrimination. We can support programs like micro loans, free pharmacies, getting a head training programs and other creative and inventive programs that help our neighbors in need to get ahead, and even escape the trap of poverty. We can be a friend pointing them in the right direction, a friend who walks with our neighbor in need on the journey that leads them out of the trap of poverty. The friend who drives them to their appointments when public transportation is inefficient. We can be the friend who helps our neighbors in need dream of a different day and better life for themselves and their family.  We need to make sure that St. Vincent de Paul Society is around 50, 100 years from now. That’s part of our responsibilities as a member. Things they are a changing, and our neighbors in need are hoping, expecting, needing us to be there for them and their families, not just now, but in the future as well. What we do now will impact the future, if we do nothing, that will impact the future also. Some say we can’t, cause we are all getting to old, or we are all ready to involved to take on more. Our Founder and our Patron, Bl. Frederic Ozanam and St. Vincent de Paul would not agree. Both of them will expect that we as members were inventive to infinity and that we invite others, especially the younger members of our communities, Catholic and non-Catholic to join us as we explore the opportunities and see the possibilities.

Roger Playwin, retired National CEO, Society of St. Vincent de Paul

From the CEO – August 2020

From the CEO – August 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians:

Peace be with you. I hope that you continue to remain safe and are doing as well as possible during these days of considerable uncertainty. My prayers are with you.

Last month, I wrote about helping each other, as Vincentians, to broaden our concept of community, i.e. our journey together. We also celebrated Independence Day – our nation’s freedom from a foreign sovereignty, not from each other. As we did, it occurred to me that we should be celebrating and strengthening our interdependence as much or more so than independence.

This month, I share thoughts on seeing our journey through a new lens – a new normal. It involves being more mindful and appreciating the “little things” done for us and those we do for others. To be sure, the following are merely thoughts and feelings shared by a Vincentian to other Vincentians. If they cause you to want to respond, whether to agree or otherwise, then, in the spirit of Vincentian friendship, I encourage you to do so.

These are challenging, even painful times. Reports of separation, loneliness, despair, and tragic loss are every day’s lead stories. But, as suggested last month, perhaps those are the labor pains of a “new normal” being born. Perhaps we will better appreciate the gift of every day.

I – Gift Giving

Gifts are a beautiful tradition. Typically, they are given to another to express affection or to recognize a special occasion. They come in all sizes and price points. No matter the cost or sacrifice to the giver, they are presented free of charge to the recipient. The catalyst for gifts is one’s decision to give to another.

Gifts need not be purchased.  Whether we realize it or not, we give and receive various types of special gifts every day. We give gifts of our time and gifts of our efforts. We also give gifts of understanding, compassion, kindness, and love – even when the recipient is not necessarily “deserving” of the gift. What priceless gestures. It is natural and understandable to give gifts to family and those within one’s “community”. But what about all others? They are surely part of God’s community.

Stories are a powerful tool to emotionalize information. In that spirit, I begin by sharing one about a gift.

There once lived a King. His staff announced a huge celebration to honor him. Dignitaries from near and far attended. As the celebration began, a long reception line assembled consisting of dignitaries bearing expensive gifts to give the King. At the end of the line was an elderly man shabbily dressed. It was apparent from his appearance that he was a fisherman. That was rather odd because the sea was at least a several day walk from the King’s palace. When the man arrived at the front of the line, he presented the King with his gift: a sea shell. The King’s guard then said “you come to our King’s celebration and present him with only a sea shell? This is an outrage!” The man responded by saying, “long journey, part of gift.”

II – Keeping Life Precious – Our Gift to God

Humans have an incredible capacity to give. Stories of people’s generosity of heart and willingness to sacrifice abound. They are treasured sources of inspiration. But Life can be a long journey; and one can get worn down by its demands. That can create alienation, cynicism, and despair – not feelings that promote or nurture one’s ability to give.

a) The “Boredom of Daily Routine”  

The renowned author/philosopher, David Foster Wallace, observed that much of our journey consists of the flat out “boredom of daily routine”. Like water is for fish, one could say that our daily routines (and all they involve) are the “waters” in which we typically swim. In his essay, “This Is Water”, Wallace provides several examples of what he means by daily boredom. For example, he challenges us to look at an average work day.

You arise, go to your demanding job, and work hard for a full day. By day’s end, you are exhausted. All you really want to do is to go home, have a nice dinner, and then unwind before heading to bed to get ready for the next work day. But then you realize that you have no food at home (or you are asked to stop by the market on your way home to pick some up). It’s the end of the work day. Traffic is bad. The market is crowded (apparently others are short on food, too). And your shopping cart has a wheel that, as you try to maneuver up and down the aisles, keeps pulling to the left. You think “I don’t need this”!

We can relate; and this is merely one example of the dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless daily routines all of our journeys include. You get the picture. Those moments, those frustrating “interruptions” from what we really prefer doing, force us to decide – numerous times every day – how to respond to them. Do we take umbrage with Life’s routine? Probably, especially if we view things through the lens of “my hunger”, “my time”, “my fatigue”, or even “my desire.” Doing so leads to a mindset of everyone who is not helping me is simply in my way! Think “me v. everybody.” How truly frustrating!

Feelings of frustration and even anger are only exacerbated when a particular day also includes pain, failure, rejection, disagreement, sadness, or even personal loss. Journeys also take unexpected turns as a result of illness, separation, loss of economic stability, and a host of other setbacks.

b) The Gift of Kindness

Yet, there is another, personal choice for dealing with Life’s “daily routine”. Kindness. It begins with a recognition of the precious gift that we have been given: Life. Each day involves fundamental choices we make – intentionally or by default – regarding how to use that gift. Do we allow Life’s inconveniences to “eat us alive” slowly, or do we keep Life precious? At least part of that answer depends upon one’s focus. Are we proceeding through the ofttimes suffocating existence of each, “boring” day assessing whether those with whom you cross paths “deserve” to be treated kindly? Or should our focus instead be on what motivates us? Each of us has so much more control over the latter.

Clearly, choosing to react with kindness to interruptions, distractions, and “unreasonable people” is not easy. Nor is it likely a game changer. But like the sea shell that the fisherman brought from far away, it is a precious gift. Let us be mindful of how we respond to the mundane moments of daily Life.

No matter what our journey has involved or where it has taken us, we have survived. A forty year, five day a week career translates to roughly 10,000 work days. And a life of seventy years is 25,500 days. By any measure, those are long journeys. And think of the countless interactions we have had with others. In our daily routine, each interaction can be an opportunity to grow as a human being. To get to the “next day”, notwithstanding pain, sorrow, and setbacks, we find the strength, courage, and determination to carry on. Gifts of kindness, respect, friendship, courtesy, love, and, when necessary, forgiveness may seem small. But they matter.

Whenever our paths cross, it is with this unspoken backdrop – these long journeys – that we do so. Each interaction is a gift. Each interaction is unique and helps to keep Life precious, especially if we choose to share the gift of kindness not only with family and friends, but with everyone. When a meeting may be inconvenient and “not according to my schedule”, think of the journey each participant took to get there! Our journey is part of the gift we give to others each day. “Long journey, part of gift.”

III – The Gift of Every Day – God’s Gift to Us

We are expected to “grow up” rather than merely to grow old. Think of the number of people in your remarkable life who have helped you along the way to become who you are! Each of your paths has led you to service as a Vincentian. What a noble calling, if one chooses to respond to that calling and serve with true Vincentian spirit.

Life journeys can be long, tiring, and most challenging. Therein lies why the Vincentian core value of friendship is so essential. As we soldier on through Covid-19 and all other impediments along our way back to God, we can choose to remain inwardly focused, or we can choose to live our Vincentian mission. It is not easy. No one ever said that following Jesus Christ is.

God has given us the gift of eternal life. He has also given us the gift of each other. May we feel and choose to practice both types of love each and every day. Indeed, at those inevitable moments of inconvenience – e.g. at the store, in a traffic jam, at the office, or at home – we can choose to focus on our own interests or those of others. It is up to us to decide. Let us be more mindful of those daily choices.

IV – Conclusion

Last month, I suggested that rather than “return to normal” as previously defined, we strive to emerge from this insidious pandemic having created a “new normal” that focuses more on an inclusive sense of community and the needs of others. For the moment, we find ourselves entrenched in an on-going health crisis that is far from over. Through it all, we retain a freedom to choose how to respond to the daily inconveniences, distractions, injustices, and inequities with which our journey confronts us. May we choose to use the transformative powers of kindness and giving to others for the greater glory of God.

It can be a long journey back to God. Along the way, every day provides ample opportunities to grow spiritually in His name. This Covid-19 crisis has multiplied the daily inconveniences and interruptions that confront us. So let us begin now to view them instead as gifts – opportunities to grow in holiness and closer to God. Little gifts can and do make all the difference in our world.

Covid-19 has also instilled uncertainty – even fear – in so many. Let us see the possible and choose to be part of the solution by shedding our fear and giving the gift of hope to each other.

Best wishes. Stay safe. By the way, the King loves sea shells. Pass it on. “Long journey, part of gift.” God bless.

In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,
Dan

SVdPD Special Works Update – July 2020

SVdPD Special Works Update – July 2020 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

We knew something was going to happen.  The news from New York state was not good.  The COVID19 pandemic had brought that state to a halt, and at our pantry, we started to plan for our continued operation.  On March 23rd, our governor called for the complete shutdown of the state and the introduction of social distancing.  We put our plans into action which included redesigning our pantry food delivery system, implementing a new “home visit” approach, and including our community partners and parish support system in our reconfigured approach to helping our neighbors in need.

Our volunteer, Joe, lent us a large tent which we erected outside our usual pantry address on New Street in Mount Clemens.  The tent gave us high visibility from both New and Market Streets.  While it was pretty cold those first few weeks, our neighbors still found us.  We made a lot of new friends during that period as the supermarkets were low on everything – not just toilet paper – and a lot of people found themselves unemployed.  The unemployment checks had not yet kicked in and the stimulus checks were still on the way.

Since the students had been sent home from college, we were fortunate to have some young, strong and willing volunteers to supplement the twenty or so core volunteers who continued to come to the pantry dressed in their masks and rubber gloves.  But the tent got to be an issue as we erected and took it down each day.  Father Michael Cooney, pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Mount Clemens, agreed to let us use a garage on the property for our new pantry.  With this new location, we changed our hours from two hours-per-day, three days a week to three hours-a-day, two days a week.  The transition went very smoothly and we got out of the May snow storms!

With home visits off the table during this period, we initiated a community outreach program.  From our database, we generated a list of more than one thousand persons who have visited our pantry over the last two years.  We then divided this list among ten volunteers who called to “check on” our neighbors, to remind them that the pantry was open, and to invite them to let us help with their current needs – be it food, rent or other financial needs.  The response from our neighbors was overwhelming.  Many live alone and were very appreciative of the offers of help, but also with the human contact as these calls provided hope and consolation to those who are lonely and depressed.

To follow through with our commitments to assist our neighbors, we rely on our parish family and St. Mary’s School families for spiritual and financial support.  Among the community partners that stepped up to assist us were local merchants, businesses, and the Meijer Corporation.  With their assistance, we were able to work with the Macomb Food Program and Forgotten Harvest to continue to obtain canned food, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh meat and dairy products for distribution.  One stipulation of the Macomb Food Program is that we must give food to everyone who comes to the pantry.  This requirement expanded our usual assistance boundaries into Detroit, Warren, Roseville, and other nearby communities.

As of the three- and one-half months since we began under our new guidelines, we have served over seven hundred families, totaling over one thousand five hundred individuals.  That’s what St. Vincent de Paul has been doing for over 110 years in Mount Clemens – and we’ve got the certificate to prove it!  We pray every day that Jesus helps us to be generous with our time, our possessions and ourselves in this mission of charity.

God Bless, stay safe and remember, we are in this together with Jesus.

St. Vincent DePaul, St. Peter Conference

From Sister Noreen – July 2020

From Sister Noreen – July 2020 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

On a recent summer morning as I was preparing to go on an errand of mercy, I found myself addressing God in the words that Jesus said to Peter when Peter couldn’t stay awake and pray with Him the night before the crucifixion:  “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  How many times in these last many weeks of events in our nation and throughout the world have I paused to reflect on my own weakness in doing what the gospel of Jesus asks of me?  It is nearly impossible to follow through without God’s help. That is why prayer is so especially important!

Sometimes I borrow the words of scripture, or other times, the words prayed by those we name as our saints. This brief plea of Mother Teresa, is especially fitting for us who aspire to grow in humility as we live our Vincentian vocation in humble and demanding service:

“Make us worthy, O Lord, to serve our fellow human beings…”

Lately, I have had  occasions to see the special works of our area Vincentians  as they live out Jesus’ mandate to “feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty” through the ministry of the Matchan Nutrition Center. Appropriately so, this ministry is done from a facility of the St. Vincent de Paul church, Pontiac, Michigan. All through the year, meals are prepared and served to 150-200 neighbors every Tuesday and Thursday by a crew of committed volunteers who are some of the hardest working, and most dedicated folks I have even seen.

Along with the nutritious meals served, there are, normally, other needed services provided for the guests in this social setting. However, during this time since mid-March with all the restrictions that are in place as we protect one another from the Corona 19 Virus spread, the work of the Matchan Nutrition Center has had to adapt constantly without missing a beat in serving the hungers of our neighbors.

With social distancing restrictions, the hot meals turned into “take out” sack meals, served from a tent- like covering that did not always protect from the sleet, the wind, rain, and now the warm sunshine. While some are serving outside in the elements, a whole crew is in the hot kitchen diligently preparing the nutritious food. The area that Matchan serves is literally a food dessert, with grocery stores at a great distance for those with little or no transportation.

Because the Matchan volunteers are so diligent in finding resources and maintaining relationships, including regularly picking up and hauling  grocery donations from generous businesses,  neighbors-in-need  are also able to pick up needed fresh vegetables, fruits, breads, cheese and other food items they can use. Nothing goes to waste!

An Update from Nancy – July 2020

An Update from Nancy – July 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear fellow Vincentians,

A PROGRESS NOTE

The Pandemic is still with us for who knows how long.  As numbers change by region, States across the country are shifting into reopening stages, with varied results from state to state.

We as Vincentians, our friends and family and our neighbors in need also have varying thoughts and emotions on entering a reopening stage. If you or someone you know has been exposed to this virus or have known someone who has died from it, the willingness to return to what was considered normal may be far different than one who has limited their exposure to the media’s outpouring of information.

What’s next?  When will life as before the Pandemic return to us?  Dinners and visits with extended family and friends are an important part of life, yet so many are not ready to host an event at their home or plan a meal at a restaurant. So, we toddle on using phone, facetime and Zoom technology to check on each other and be as supportive as needed.

Although Vincentian life in so many ways is on hold, some of us have stepped out of our comfort zone, by attending a few in person meetings for St. Vincent de Paul business with adherence to the guidelines for social distancing.  However, some Conferences have yet to meet in person and the majority of members are very cautious in their response to such meetings.

Frustration at this stagnation of life is tremendous, despite the belief that each day should be appreciated as it comes to us. Yet we need to plan, to be active, productive and still remain safe.

There are many issues on our Vincentian plate, both Conference driven and Central Office concerns.

  • Conference sustainability for membership, service and spirituality
  • Initiation of home visits
  • Formation availability for Ozanam Orientation and leadership training
  • Diversity inclusion in leadership and membership
  • Camp maintenance/updates 2020, and planning for Camp season 2021
  • Systematic change programming
  • Microloan availability
  • Conference and Central Office coffers
  • Fundraising and celebratory events.
  • Disaster response
  • Council Strategic planning

As we step softly and carefully in moving forward, life is returning to a new semblance of normal.   Our neighbors in need have not been forgotten, just as we have not forgotten our friends and family. Vincentian life is a commitment of oneself to our mission.

We have not forgotten that mission:

The Mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul

“A network of friends, inspired by Gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relationships with and service to people in need.”

God bless to all of you,

Nancy Szlezyngier,

President, Board of Directors

From the CEO – July 2020

From the CEO – July 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians,

Peace be with you. I hope that you remain safe and are doing as well as possible during this dreadful health crisis. Heartfelt thanks to those who, like our staff, remain active helping others during this quarantining.

I am also deeply grateful that, thanks to a very concerted team effort, our Council – Vincentians and staff alike – continues to serve those in need while adhering to recommended safety protocols. In addition, relative to many other Not-for-Profits, our Council continues to maintain financial stability. That is essential if we are to continue helping others, especially in light of anticipated, increased needs ahead.

Our Leadership Team worked very hard on all aspects of our operation during the three months that our offices were closed. Our entire staff has made extraordinary efforts for the past three weeks as we have safely, carefully, and successfully re-opened operations. I am deeply grateful to all of them for their extraordinary efforts.

1. A New Normal

Naturally, a frequent comment heard lately is “I cannot wait until we return to normal”. While totally understandable, comments like that cause me to wonder what is normal anymore and whether that should even be our goal.

For months, our nation has been staggered by two existential crises: an insidious health pandemic and the resultant economic crisis as well as the killing of an African American man in custody. The death of George Floyd unleashed illuminating light on many other such tragedies that has caused our nation to erupt into a fury of widespread, sustained cries for justice. Troubled times have come to our nation (& world). While it is true that difficult times can bring out the best in people, crises undeniably also surely trigger other, less desirable reactions as well.

In our May 2020 Conference Connection, I addressed the alarming rise in inequality in our nation (and in Southeast Michigan) in regard to health care, education, housing, employment, criminal justice, among many other essential aspects of life. In effect, that situation was part of our “normal” prior to anyone ever having heard of Covid-19. We now know that those unaddressed inequalities left so many, particularly among our African American sisters and brothers, terribly vulnerable to this ferocious virus. And the Covid-19 crisis is far from over.

Covid-19 has inconvenienced all of us. But it has devastated so many. They are our neighbors. They are in need. The question that I ask is “together, what more can our Vincentian community do about this worsening situation? Our humanity depends upon everyone’s humanity.

2. Defining “Community”

We just celebrated Mother’s Day and then Father’s Day. Both are truly wonderful occasions that recognize the immeasurable contributions that parents make as a result of the love, guidance, training, and efforts that they willingly bestow on their beloved children. Families are a cornerstone of our society.

Perhaps the next most critical social group after family is “community”. Unlike family, however, that term lends itself to considerably different definitions. To demonstrate, some define community as only those who live in their neighborhood, look like them, vote like them, and basically share the same religious and socio-economic beliefs. Others have a much broader sense of the term. Some believe that all should be considered part of our community.

When one views another as a fellow member of a community, that person tends to receive the benefit of the doubt, e.g. he/she is “one of us.” Unfortunately, the converse tends to be true as well, e.g. no benefit of the doubt if “he/she is not one of us.” Consequently, how one defines the term community, e.g. narrowly or broadly, is quite critical to one’s willingness to accept differing views and people of different backgrounds.

Consider the following. If we brought together a two year old from the African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, Arab American, Native American, Caucasian, and other racial and ethnic “worlds” that comprise our diverse nation, they would have no problem “getting along”. To the extent they had problems, it would surely not be because of racial, religious, or ethnic differences. But if we brought that same richly diverse group back together sixteen years later, a different ambiance would likely exist among the group. That tells me that cultural and partisan differences are acquired traits. Once acquired, they tend to galvanize through constant interaction only with those who share those views, whatever they may be. This can be a terribly destructive disease in a pluralist nation like ours.

Undeniably, within our richly diverse nation, many priceless cultures – “worlds” – exist. But, at the end of the day, we are one nation. For many reasons, we should view our nation as one community. The same holds true for our Society of St. Vincent de Paul, i.e. we are One Society, one community. Both are aspirational visions.

The reality is that, currently, we live in “divided houses.” Cultural differences get emphasized and attitudes harden. Whether liberal or conservative, old or young, or one race or ethnicity or another, it is time to examine and better appreciate the reality that, while divisiveness may work well for some, it is simply contrary to our nation’s and our Vincentian core beliefs. Our charge as Vincentians is to advance our inspirational mission and to adhere to our core values of Friendship, Spiritual Growth, and Service.

We are about to celebrate perhaps our most significant national holiday. It celebrates our experiment in democracy that affords “liberty and justice for all.” All includes those without fathers or mothers. It also includes people of all races, backgrounds, and beliefs. In the inclusive spirit of our nation and our Vincentian Society, we should strive to help each other broaden our sense of community. In that important sense, perhaps community is more a state of mind than a geographic area.

3. Our Vincentian Rule Promotes Inclusion, i.e. a growing community

We belong to an extraordinary global organization founded in 1833 by a remarkable group of students at the University of Paris. Our Vincentian mission calls us to follow Christ and thereby bear witness to His compassion and liberating love. It encourages us to provide any form of personal help to anyone in need, e.g. regardless of creed, ethnic or social background, health, gender, or political opinions.

We strive to seek out and find the forgotten, the victims of exclusion or adversity, and the vulnerable. Our Rule expressly encourages us to adapt to changing world conditions and the new types of poverty that may emerge from continual change. We are encouraged to give priority to the poorest of the poor and to those rejected by society. Why?

The gospels reveal that those who tended to follow Jesus were those outside or on the periphery of communities: e.g. the lame, crippled, blind, deaf, prostitutes, and foreigners. Jesus chose to view them as neighbors. He consistently invited rejected people to be part of His community. How truly inspirational.

Vincentians are not clones. Neither are Americans! Each of us is different. Like members of all organizations, our members likely have varying definitions of the term community, some less inclusive than others. Rather than focus on where each finds oneself currently, the real question is where are we heading both individually and as an organization? As we embrace and create the future ahead, let our inspirational mission and Rule serve as our guide.

Our Vincentian Rule clearly encourages us to broaden our definition of community (and help others do the same) through loving service to those in need. We are all on a journey back to God. But we take exquisitely unique paths getting there. Along our path, love is the best gift that can we bestow on one another. Our Vincentian Rule invites us to be part of this solution.

Rather than strive to “return to normal”, therefore, we should assure those excluded that they are welcome in our Vincentian community. We need to bring more goodwill to so many in desperate need of it, including each other. By our actions, we need to say to neighbors in need and to each other, “you are welcome in our inclusive community.”

4. Racism is a pandemic that destroys community

How can the concept of an inclusive community be credibly discussed and celebrated without addressing painful, destructive walls of exclusion that another pandemic has wrought upon our nation? Like the term community, it is apparent that minds differ on how to define the term racism. Notwithstanding how one defines the term, one thing is undeniable: unlike Covid-19, racism has cast darkness, despair, and death upon our nation for centuries. It stands as a major impediment to building and growing community. Unlike what we hope to discover soon for Covid-19, there is no vaccine to cure racism.

Racism has been roundly condemned by our Vincentian organization at every level. We have rejected it as being a “cancer that corrodes our society”, i.e . our sense of community as contemplated by our Rule. Part of the eventual solution mandates that we listen. Particularly in light of the recent, shocking tragedies, I have committed to doing so; and I urge you to do the same. Numerous, powerful African American voices are speaking out. I reference just one herein.

NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently shared that “racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible – even if you are choking on it – until you let the sun in. Then you see it everywhere.” Systemic racism is a shameful yoke that weighs heavily upon our nation’s soul. We should all listen and reflect when our African American sisters and brothers share their experiences. For a host of reasons, racism is totally irreconcilable with our faith and our Vincentian values.

Listening, while essential, is only a first step. As a Dutch proverb says, “between saying and doing one often wears out a good pair of shoes.” We need to “walk the talk” and follow up with intelligent, impactful action by reaffirming our commitment to serve the excluded, the needy, the voiceless, and all those who suffer hateful discrimination based upon the color of skin.

Recently, our national Voice of the Poor committee hosted three webinars on systemic racism. They served as an example of how our Society can convert listening into action. I urge you to take the time and listen to them (see link below). Doing so would be a necessary “next step” to creating a future consistent with our faith and our Vincentian values. As we do, let us be ever mindful that so many of our African American brothers and sisters continue to endure the heavy burden of unjust, unequal, and abusive treatment. Racial prejudice – illegal discrimination of any kind – should have no place in our nation. It should not be welcome or tolerated in our Vincentian society, either.

Click Here:  Webinar:  SVdP Voice of the Poor – Systemic Racism 

Our Council is exploring impactful ways to convert our talking on this important topic into  “walking”. This may include education, advocacy, recruitment, and encouraging voting. We need to (and will) walk the talk. Please share any additional suggestions that you may have.

This message, of course, is not new. In fact, striving for racial justice seems more like a marathon than a sprint. But it is a struggle that should be sustained and won.  In that regard, fifty-two years ago, Senator Robert Kennedy had this to say the day after Dr. King’s assassination. He was comparing a sudden, savage murder to a slower, more agonizing destruction. Given the profundity of his comments, I share the following, rather long, quote.

” . . . there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions – indifference, inaction, and decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books, and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man amongst other men.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers [and sisters] as alien, alien men [and women] with whom we share a city, but not a community, men [and women] bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other– only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.

But we can perhaps remember – if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers [and sisters], that they share with us the same short moment of life, that they seek – as do we – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can.

Surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at the least, to look around at those of us, of our fellow man [and woman], and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and [sisters] countrymen once again.” (emphasis added).

Senator Kennedy’s profound and powerful words still resonate today.

5. Conclusion

We may never return to the “normal” we knew before even hearing of Covid-19. But that may not be necessarily bad. These are days of unprecedented challenge. They may also be days of unprecedented change. The future has not yet been written.

St. Ignatius believed that every experience, good and bad, has the potential to motivate within us a deeper response to God and to one another. During these most challenging times, let us focus on helping transform our incredible nation into a community that is less destructive, more peaceful, and more inclusive. Choosing to do so is precisely the essence of our faith and of our Society. Fr. Matt Malone, S.J. recently observed, “This is our faith. . . . It is the faith of an Easter people; a people who recognize that Good Friday contains the seeds that bloom on Easter Sunday.”

Clearly, some see ominous darkness, uncertainty, and fear during these unsettling days.  Let us feel the spirit of optimism that, as we draw closer to Christ through loving service to others, it will no longer be us who loves, but Christ who loves through us.

Let us also see the possible and work together toward “what can be.” Perhaps at its most basic, let us commit to helping each other to broaden our definition of “community” and thereby become in our hearts “brother, sisters, and countrymen once again.”

As all who have eyes can see, something is dying. But perhaps something is being born as well.  Valarie Kaur, an attorney and filmmaker, recently put it this way, “what if the darkness we see around us is not that of a tomb, but of a womb?” Our noble struggle continues.

In the true spirit of community and the “self-evident propositions” upon which our richly diverse nation is founded, I extend you, your families, and all those you love a healthy and Happy Fourth of July! Stay safe. Please continue to practice both social distancing and emotional closeness. God bless.

In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,

Dan

Coronavirus Pandemic at Matchan Nutrition Center

Coronavirus Pandemic at Matchan Nutrition Center 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Matchan Nutrition Center normally serves hot nutritious meals cooked from scratch. Meals include a meat dish, one or two vegetables, bread, salad, dessert and a beverage. On Thursday March 12th, everything changed. Instead of hot meals, it began preparing bag lunches,, and only the homeless were permitted to sit in the dining hall. Others were asked to exit the building after picking up their meal. It was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Matchan needed to put protocols in place to protect its volunteers, neighbors in need and community.

The following Monday, the Matchan Board met, to discuss how best to continue serving the community, and ensure it was following the Governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order. Since many of Matchan’s Vincentian volunteers are retirees, they were asked to stay home if they did not feel comfortable coming in. The decision was made to close the dining hall and begin distributing bag lunches outside. To adhere to the recommended social distancing practices, tables were used to separate volunteers and neighbors in need, and produce and bread was bagged and handed out to minimize contact. “Grab-and-Go” became the mantra.

As the pandemic continued, the center began seeing a significant increase in the number of individuals and families it was serving. On a regular day, Matchan served around 165 people. By April, that number increased to over 237 people.

Because luncheon meat for sandwiches is usually not donated, and bread donations were insufficient to keep up with demand, food costs began to rise. In addition, regular food donation partners temporarily closed or paused to evaluate how to meet the increased demands of area food pantries and kitchens. As a result the center’s food costs increased from $.60 to $3.00 per person. Fortunately, donations and food distribution are getting back to normal, and individuals have given generously to help make a difference.

Because so many businesses were temporarily suspending operations, the center began seeing an increase in the numbers of new neighbors. Neighbors like Carol Bevargas, a single mother with three children ages 12, 17 and 19. She just moved to Michigan from California, and found employment at a local family services organization, but the job was placed on hold because of COVID-19. Suddenly finding herself in a situation where she needed assistance, she turned to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Detroit’s Matchan Nutrition Center, where she was welcomed. She was extremely grateful not only for the assistance she received, but for the warmth and friendliness in which it was offered.

So much has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No one knows when the pandemic will end, or what our “new normal” will be. But what we do know is that as long as our neighbors need assistance to make it through today, Matchan Nutrition Center and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Detroit will be there to offer assistance, friendship and hope.

An Update from Nancy – June 2020

An Update from Nancy – June 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Vincentians,

Due to little change in the Governor’s orders that impact most of us, my message is much the same as the May 2020 Connection article. As of May 27, 2020, we find ourselves still under “shelter in place” orders due to this horrific pandemic.

Our Governor has made limited modifications as we move forward in phases and the volume of vehicle traffic has increased as the weather warms and people move outside to enjoy the season.

Some Vincentians have experienced illness and deaths of their family and friends. Other Vincentians are very blessed with enough food, a comfortable home and sufficient income. It is a time of grief and time of quiet.

Vincentian Life has dwindled in time and energy.  Our Vincentian world has become quite silent except for those conferences distributing food and assisting the homeless. It is remarkably easy to forget about the poor in your neighborhood as one stays sheltered at home, focused on one’s personal situation.

What will our future hold?

Will our Vincentian lines flood with calls when the suspensions end and employment/Federal benefits expire?

  • Will there be sufficient resources for our neighbors?
  • Will we have compassion and consider their need with kindness or will we display irritation and initially ask “what did you do with your stimulus check or why aren’t you back to work?
  • Many Vincentians fit the description of the most vulnerable to Coved 19/over 65 and health issues. What individual risks are we ready to take to help the poor?
  • Will some of us give up being a Vincentian due to fears?

There is no recommended date for initiating home visits at this time. We must rely on the Executive orders in place as our guideline for safety. Our Society’s prayer is that Vincentians will step forward and face the anticipated onslaught of need, with courage, strength and as much creativity as necessary.

Stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong.

God Bless,

Nancy

From the CEO – June 2020

From the CEO – June 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians,

Peace be with you. I hope that you continue to stay safe and healthy during this on-going, unprecedented health crisis. Our Council has surely faced crisis before, but nothing quite like this. Globally, Covid-19 has crushed For Profit and Not-for-Profit organizations alike. Other than Amazon, Google, Facebook, and a seeming handful of others, virtually every company and organization has suffered stunning financial losses; and this crisis is far from over.

Relatively speaking, thanks to the incredible, collective efforts of our Leadership Team, SVdPD has come through this pandemic – so far – in remarkably good shape. Returning to some semblance of “normalcy” will require an overall team effort of our staff and Vincentians alike. It is in that spirit that I share the following about our Districts, Conferences, and Retail operations. Please note that what I share herein is the result of proactive planning by several members of our Leadership Team. At the same time, I have emphasized to our team the necessity of remaining “nimble”, i.e. we may need to shift direction on a dime. So what is shared herein is clearly subject to change, perhaps significant change.

Lots of questions remain to be answered. Lots of uncertainty lies ahead for our nation and for our Council. In a sense, it is like our nation is awakening from a self-induced, economic coma. It would be difficult enough if we had a comprehensive, holistic plan for returning to normal. But we do not. Instead, we seem to be embracing the future in a very decentralized, patchwork manner. So it places additional stress on small organizations like ours to improvise. Our best bet for creating a future for our Council that we can be proud of, therefore, is by working together in friendship and with a common goal of advancing our Society’s mission.

1.  Covid-19 Emergency Aid to Districts & Conferences

In light of the various unforeseen circumstances related to the COVID-19 national emergency, it is anticipated that the needs of our neighbors will increase significantly in the coming months. In an effort to help position our Districts and Conferences, the Detroit Council and the Board provided each District substantial funding to address the increased need created by this crisis. These funds are to be used specifically towards this effort. In return, each District has been asked only to submit a cursory report on how the funds were used.

Funds from three different sources were combined to provide our Districts and Conferences much needed additional financial wherewithal to meet the growing needs of our neighbors. Funds were distributed to Districts on an equal basis. No administrative fees were deducted. These funds will not be subject to solidarity consideration, either.

These are difficult times. But difficult times can bring out the very best in people. Every day presents opportunities to “be there” for others. During these challenging days, let us choose to focus on that which sustains us. Indeed, Frederic Ozanam reminded that, “Scripture tells us that we will be judged, as a society and as individuals, by how we care for the poor, the vulnerable, the orphans, the elderly, or those in need of spiritual or physical aid.” Let us create paths based upon grace, compassion, and service.

2.  Guiding Principles

For the past ten weeks, our reduced staff has worked “remotely” pursuant to the following, clearly communicated guidelines.

First, SVdPD employee and Vincentian safety is paramount. Many of our staff and Vincentians are in the high vulnerable category. We have made all discretionary decisions in light of that reality.

Second, SVdPD and each of its employees has a civic duty to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. We fully intend to follow the directives of Governor Whitmer and all other relevant government directives.

Third, during this pandemic crisis, absent a compelling reason, our Council will focus on existing programs only.

Finally, our Leadership Team will do its collective best to make the best business decisions possible for our Council.

So far, so good.  But this crisis is far from over.

3.    Future Plans for Retail Operations

The overall plan for re-opening our stores and RRC safely and effectively requires “flexible scheduling”. Preparation will be completed pursuant to phases. The overriding goal of these considerable efforts is to give our staff, our Vincentians, and our customers as much “peace of mind” that we can give in light of these very unsettling circumstances, many of which are outside of our control. Here is just a sampling.

Phase I calls for progress being made on several parallel tracks. For example, defining, and documenting a SVdPD Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Plan for the entire organization. For the retail operations, it naturally includes thorough store and vehicle cleaning and disinfecting, and working to prepare appropriate PPE and signage aimed at keeping employees and customers safe.

The plan includes having adequate supplies, arranging for the return of furloughed store employees, compiling daily reports and checklists, installing safety equipment, e.g. plexiglass shields for counters, and creating plans for controlling store traffic as well as schedules for periodic cleaning and disinfecting.

In regard to our RRC operation, we have planned carefully on how best to prepare for what we anticipate will be a tremendous outpouring of clothes and furniture donations. This has included, among other things, training a Donations Coordinator, setting up telephone banks to handle and coordinate donations, researching the salvage market for reliable vendors who will help increase our revenues through baling, and establishing a proactive cleaning schedule for both our warehouse and our fleet of trucks.

Phase II includes continued store preparation and cleaning, especially as more furloughed colleagues return, as well as hanging signage in our stores that outlines our new rules for the visiting public. At the same time, the RRC operation will shift into high gear. Donation bins throughout the Archdiocese will be cleaned up, a new telephone bank will be fully operational to handle the increase in calls for donation pick up, drivers will be trained on newly developed strategies and routes, and the entire RRC team will be back and functioning. Of particular note, it will also include a concerted marketing campaign as a follow up to our “Wait to Donate” donations campaign. We expect that our Vincentians and the public will respond enthusiastically!

Phase III will begin on Monday, June 8, 2020. Subject to any further directive from Governor Whitmer, our stores will officially open, albeit on a limited basis, e.g. limited hours, no more than ten customers in the store at one time. All PPE, e.g. masks, gloves, sanitizer, social distancing, etc. will be utilized. We will accommodate “curbside” donation drop-offs, and staff will begin officially processing donations in all stores.

All of the above is consistent with the aforementioned guidelines. It is all aimed at giving staff, Vincentians, and the public as much peace of mind about our stores as reasonably possible.

4. What Can Vincentians Do To Help?

Great question! Here are some thoughts regarding how Vincentians can help support our retail operations during these unprecedented times.

Volunteer!  While we understand these are uncertain times, your support and willingness to volunteer in our store locations is needed now more than ever. The store teams will be overextended with the additional daily tasks created by the new COVID-19 safety standards.  Here are a few ways you can assist.  Rest assured, PPE supplies such as masks and gloves will be provided:

  • Assist with greeting customers and monitoring the flow to ensure not more than 10 are in the store at one time
  • Assist with directing cars to the curbside donation drop off areas
  • Assist with additional light cleaning and sanitizing efforts (i.e cart sanitation, floors, high traffic areas etc.)
  • Assist with donation collection and processing; and
  • Coordinate with Debbie Jackson to be “on call” when a store in your neighborhood needs help.

Additional ways to assist include:

  • Advocate for, and promote “Bundle Sundays” or other sponsored donation drives;
  • Donate! We need all the product that we can get. To do that, we need your help and your Conference’s help; and
  • Pray! Pray for all adversely affected by this pandemic.

Thank you for your anticipated assistance.

5. Conclusion

Clearly, we remain firmly in the midst of this crisis. Our road to re-opening and returning to “normal” will be a slow, iterative process. Frankly, we do not know what lies ahead. How long will it take to reclaim our customers? Will there be a second wave, and if so, what will that mean for our Council? So we move forward into an unknown future. But, as briefly described herein, we do so with a prepared and talented team ready to embrace whatever lies ahead. We urge you to choose to become an active member of that team in some meaningful way.

I am very proud of my entire Leadership Team. They have worked extremely hard and stayed laser-focused on our mission during this crisis under less than optimum conditions. We are also very proud of what has happened at many of our stores during this shutdown, especially our Utica store. Please make a point, once restrictions are lifted, to visit (and support) your local SVdPD store.

Best wishes on all ahead. In true Vincentian spirit, let us help one another get through this crisis one day at a time. As we do, may we see each day as an opportunity to help others in need. Please stay safe. God bless you, your family, and all those you love.

In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,

Dan