The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Society of St. Vincent de Paul serving others in state

NLR's vulnerable communities receive help from charity group around holiday season

Published: January 8, 2024   
OSV News photo/CNS file, Nancy Wiechec
A woman is pictured in a file photo making a pizza in the kitchen of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix. Society staff and volunteers there prepare 4,500 meals a day and do more at Christmas and Thanksgiving. In dioceses in the Southeastern U.S., volunteers with local SVdP conferences spoke to OSV News about how they're spreading cheer and providing necessities for Christmas 2023.

"And so this is Christmas. For weak and for strong. For rich and the poor ones. The world is so wrong."

As the Beatles' fabled holiday song once again fills the airwaves this Yuletide season, a dedicated group of Catholic — and non-Catholic — volunteers is showing how the Christmas joy of helping the less fortunate lasts all year round.

In the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, Shelli Dominick is in her second year as president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's St. Anne and St. Joachim conference in North Little Rock. She spoke with OSV News about two families the conference adopted for Christmas.

"We worked in cooperation with our parish to give the adults gift cards, and for their various children, we are giving them a full Christmas with clothing, toys and, for everyone, meals," Dominick said.

The adopted families' children attend the North Little Rock Catholic Academy in an area that Dominick described as "not especially affluent."

She noted her small conference — 23 volunteers in all — "is being inundated right now with calls for assistance that break down to 50 percent of the people asking for help with rent, and the other 50 percent requesting utility help, because our other agencies in Pulaski County have exhausted their funds."

Society of St. Vincent de Paul conferences are parish-based groups of five to 50 lay Catholics who seek to grow spiritually following Jesus Christ by becoming personally involved in helping the poor and other neighbors in need within their communities.

The North Little Rock conference serves 95,000 people in two Arkansas communities — North Little Rock and Sherwood — "that bump up against each other," Dominick explained.

"We go into the callers' homes and pray with people, and we answer the call of the poor, literally, because that is what we do," Dominick said.

She added, however, that "we are struggling to keep our food pantry open, and last month we spent $15,000 for rent assistance alone."

Tom Wilkinson, president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Memphis, Tennessee, has been associated with the society for 20 years. He told OSV News that "all of our conference locations are at Catholic churches here in the diocese, and all of them work out their own schedule individually. They all offer home visits to ascertain a client's needs, and all of them operate a food pantry."

"We know that Christ commands us in the Bible many times to love one another as we love ourselves, and I have seen that being a volunteer is truly a time where a person can put his or her faith into concrete action," Wilkinson added.

Julie Ledet, president of her conference at St. Anne's Catholic Church near the University of Memphis these past 13 months, helps to coordinate its Saturday morning food pantry, which Ledet noted, "serves about 140 families each weekend."

Clients who visit the food pantry receive seven to eight nutritious food items, including at least

one high-quality food item.

"The majority of our clients are seniors who live on a fixed income and the aid that our conferences provide helps them stretch their Social Security checks which — let's face it — are very small in many cases," Ledet said.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in Paris by Blessed Frédéric Ozanam (1813-1853), and named after St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) a French Catholic priest canonized in 1737 renowned for his compassion for the poor. St. Vincent also is remembered for founding — along with St. Louise de Marillac (1591-1660) — the Daughters of Charity.

Matt Callahan heads up the St. Vincent de Paul conference that operates from the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington, Kentucky, the diocese's largest parish with 2,200 registered families.

Callahan told OSV News the conference had "16 teams of volunteers handing out Christmas baskets in front of the University of Kentucky's Kroger store" Dec. 16 "feeding in all a total of 50 families."

Baskets included items such as cake mixes, apples, oranges and a turkey. "We could not provide a ham this year — as we usually do — because they have become too expensive," Callahan said.

He noted that the cathedral's St. Vincent de Paul conference "does something special for people every Christmas, and this is just another way of helping families who are in need."

Deacon Steve Hester, who also is a traveling evangelist, is currently organizing the distribution of the contents of a 16-foot pod container sent to a Lexington parish courtesy of Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church in Cold Spring, New York.

"I gave a mission talk up there over the summer, and a lady named Teresa Monk got in touch with me through email, saying that her parish wanted to help," Deacon Hester said.

The help consists of new and used clothing, toys, cookware and assorted household items all destined for Kentucky's underserved mountain region known as Appalachia.

"We have delivered so far to Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic School in Paintsville,

St. Luke's Catholic Church in Salyersville, and a mission run by three of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity sisters in Jenkins," Callahan said.

Several other mountain communities are receiving a delivery of pod items as Dec. 25 approaches — and with it, the light of Christ to make people feel this is truly Christmas.

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