Vincentian Family Center will open soon in Austin

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

The sign at 901 W. Braker Ln. in Austin currently reads Monterrey Meat Market. In a few short weeks, it will read the Vincentian Family Center and Thrift Store. 
The facility, still under renovation, will be the new home of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Diocesan Council of Austin. For the first time since the society began serving Central Texas in 1961, the nonprofit will house its major operations under one roof. The St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, which merged with the council last December, will relocate from South Congress Avenue, where it has served neighbors in need since 1983, to a shared space with the society’s executive offices.
The sale of the South Congress property dissolved the store’s decades-old partnership with the Ladies of Charity of Austin. 
Stacy Ehrlich, executive director of the diocesan council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP), said as the neighborhood surrounding South Congress Avenue became gentrified and demographics shifted, the society determined that the thrift store was no longer in an optimal location to serve those in need.
While the store will move across town, the society will continue to serve the South Austin area, she said.
For years, the society’s plans to expand programs have been limited by space. Now with the refurbished 25,000-square-foot facility, the society, with the help of its network of more than 1,000 volunteers, will be able to increase their services. Ehrlich said the new center will offer “one-stop shopping.” 
The additional services offered at the new facility will supplement, not replace, the society’s home visit model, which has been the basis of the Vincentian tradition since it was founded in the 1800s. Vincentians from surrounding parishes will continue to visit homes to provide basic needs assistance, spiritual support, friendship and mentoring. 
“Developing these relationships is crucial for clients’ success and for Vincentians’ own spiritual growth,” Ehrlich said.
In addition to the thrift store and the executive offices for the society, the facility will have a large conference room, computer lab, prayer room, food pantry, client services reception area and eight offices for partnering nonprofit organizations offering services that complement the client base. 
The new center will also have a coffee shop and deli, with a variety of menu options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The kitchen facility will have cooking and wellness classes, showing participants options for healthy shopping alternatives and meal preparation. Another bonus of the new site is that there is much more parking than was available at the South Congress location.
Ehrlich said the $4.2 million-project has been funded through society’s share of the sale of the South Congress property, a 30-year mortgage and ongoing fundraising. The debt will be serviced by earned revenue generated by the thrift store and other operations.
With the opening of the new center, the store will be able to streamline its collection, processing and retail sales systems, said Paul Kleypas, the thrift store director. The center has more than 9,000-square-feet of retail sales space, as well as 5,000-square-feet of collection and processing warehouse space.
“This is a huge improvement over the current situation, which sometimes causes the overflow of merchandise to be outside,” Kleypas said.
The new store is located in an area that offers a good demographic mix of both customers and donors, he said. 
“The success of the center will depend greatly on the generosity of those donors supporting the mix of useable merchandise for the store,” Kleypas said.
In 2015, more than 1,000 volunteers provided $6 million in direct financial assistance to 145,000 Central Texans in need. Currently, there are 41 conferences –– or groups of volunteers –– in 49 parishes in the diocese. Ehrlich said there are extension programs in place to increase the number of conferences in the years to come.
To celebrate the grand opening of the facility, Bishops Joe Vásquez and Daniel García will bless the Vincentian Family Center on May 10 at 2 p.m. The event will begin at 1 p.m. with group tours, fellowship and refreshments.
For more information on the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, visit www.ssvdp.org or call (512) 251-6995.