St. Vincent de Paul Society provides critical needs

By Catholic Spirit Staff

The ministry of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has existed in the Diocese of Austin since 1961. Volunteers, called Vincentians, work to serve the poor within their parish communities, called conferences. 
In the Austin Diocese, there are 41 conferences in 47 parishes; a few parishes share a conference. Outside of larger cities like the Austin Metroplex, the Bryan/College Station area, and San Marcos, there are 20 conferences serving small, rural communities throughout Central Texas where social services are not typically available. In addition to spiritual prayers, comfort and hope, conferences provide basic needs, which consists of help with rent, utilities and food. 
The ministry of each conference is to bring concrete aid and the comfort of the Gospel to those who are poor and suffering. Vincentians strive to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to individuals in need. 
“This loving service brings each member closer to God and gives witness to the world that Christ and his Gospel message are alive today and being preached through action at the local level. Works on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are poor are the most vivid expression of Christ’s presence in the world,” said Stacy Ehrlich, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
St. Vincent de Paul, who is the patron of works of charity, said that “Charity is infinitely inventive.” Proof of that is in many rural communities’ creative approaches to solving problems. The conference in Wimberley works with the local fire department and installs free smoke detectors in homes. 
Smithville’s Vincentians consistently advocate on behalf of those they serve who live in substandard housing, helping them understand their rights and helping officials strengthen and enforce landlord ordinances. In Florence/Andice, the conference provides elementary school children with weekly bags of food so that they are not hungry over the weekend. In Marble Falls/Horseshoe Bay, the conference receives financial and community support from an interfaith coalition to provide some of the only social services available in the area. 
Other communities with conferences doing works of charity include Bertram, Brenham, Buda, Cedar Park, Copperas Cove, Dripping Springs, Elgin, Hutto, Killeen, Kyle, Lago Vista, Lockhart, Luling, Manor, Martindale, Pflugerville, Spicewood and West.
Andy Vasquez, board president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Diocesan Council of Austin, said, “At the diocesan level, we are increasingly looking beyond our Society for partners with whom we can collaborate to multiply our effectiveness. Meanwhile, many of our smaller, rural conferences have been doing that for years. Necessity and a natural community spirit have led to some innovative partnerships for serving their neighbors and inspiring our urban and suburban conferences.”
The diocesan geographical spread of more than 21,000 square miles continues to be a challenge for the Society, Ehrlich said. Vincentians are aware of the need to grow the Society to be able to cover more of the diocese. 
Patty Miranda, a Vincentian since 1998 at St. Joseph Parish in Killeen, said her work is good but difficult at times.“On the one hand the ministry is very fulfilling. On the other hand, it’s a hard ministry. You see the bad situations people can get into,” she said.
Ehrlich encourages anyone interested in start a conference at their parish to give her a call at (512) 251-6995. She said, “Pope Francis said, ‘We can’t sit around with our arms crossed while people are hungry and we lack nothing,’ so we want to help as many people as we can.” 
To donate to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, visit www.ssvdp.org. Those who need assistance can visit the interactive map on the “Find Help!” tab at www.ssvdp.org or call the Society at (512) 251-6995.

Impact by the numbers 
The total community impact of the Society for the Diocese of Austin during its fiscal year 2013 was $4.1 million in direct aid. 
That impact increased to $10 million when volunteer service hours and miles driven were taken into consideration. 
There are 988 active members of the Society doing all of this work. 
A third of those volunteers are suburban and rural Vincentians who work via 20 parish-based conferences.
Impact outside of the Austin Metroplex, the Bryan/College Station area, and San Marcos area totals $900,000 in direct aid, with a $1.7 million community impact. 
In 2013, 24 percent of the people served within the diocese identified themselves as Catholic.

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