Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 8, 2008
Vincentians glean goods for those in need
St. Vincent de Paul volunteers often forced to reject 'treasures' donors want to dump on the poor
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Volunteers labour long and hard sorting the wheat from the chaff in donations.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - The Society of St. Vincent de Paul's distribution centre is filled from floor to ceiling with donated furniture, household goods, toys, books, shoes and even religious items.
The 21 volunteers, known as Vincentians, sort through green plastic bags and cardboard boxes brimming with donated goods. People in need can get their necessities immediately.
At the heart of the society are the face-to-face contacts between the lay volunteers and those in need.
"We have wonderful volunteers, but it can be very difficult when two people have different values," said Bernie McCracken, the new Edmonton-area president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
"Something that's been of value to a person all his life, it might be a little used or scuffed or rundown, so we have to exercise discretion in terms of saying, 'Thank you very much, but we can't accept this.'"
Many people donate good, gently used furniture and household items. Others drop off garbage that must be hauled off to the landfill.
"Worst case scenario, we might get a couch come in all covered with dog hair. Well, I don't think I would want to bring that into my house, so we'd be hesitant to bring that to a client's house," said McCracken.
Some weeks the society has spent $300 on the expense of hauling away the garbage that some people "generously" gave them.
Daryl Dittrich, who manages the distribution centre, said St. Vincent de Paul is one of only few organizations to accept second-hand mattresses.
However, they will not accept mattresses and bedding from donors who have had problems with bed bug infestation. The preferred habitats of the bugs, which feed on the blood of warm-blooded hosts, are mattresses, sofas and other furniture.
Dittrich said it's less expensive to buy a client a new bed than pay to have the client's house fumigated.
While some days are busier than others, the volunteers have noticed a drop in the number of clients in recent weeks.
"Some conferences are a lot busier than others, like northeast Edmonton gets crazy up there, and the basilica earlier this year was just nuts, it was so busy," said Dittrich.
While the recession has had a worldwide impact, Dittrich has not noticed an increase in demand for services, except for food requests.
"From the food end of things, somebody was telling me today about the food bank and the demands on them. Here, earlier in the year was really busy. Last year we had a big, big year with the numbers.
"That was probably the worst I'd ever seen it. We were buying foodstuff right, left and centre because we were so busy," said Dittrich.
Unlike similar charities that do radio, newspaper and TV advertising, most of St. Vincent de Paul's advertising is by word of mouth.
"Most of our advertising is done through the Church. There are people out there who have never even heard of us. They ask where they can get rid of their stuff," he said.
"There are a lot of people who don't realize how much we do out there because it's not advertised. We have people here who dedicate themselves to this, and it's all volunteers."
Those who want to become a Vincentian should contact the head of their parish conference. The society's main Edmonton phone number for those wishing to make donations or seeking help is 780-471-5577.
"We can always use volunteers, especially in the home visit end of things and drivers," said Dittrich. As well, a bigger pool of drivers would help to offset the workload.