Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

According to Dan Kearns, a storm is coming this summer. It’s a storm that will have great impact upon the poor — the people the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) serves throughout the Diocese of Richmond.

As president of the Diocesan Council of SVDP, which includes six conferences serving nine parishes, Kearns said that during the COVID-19 pandemic some of the conferences are seeing more requests for help, some are not.

“The general expectation is that there will be a surge in mid- to late summer requests for assistance,” he said.

With people having received stimulus checks, those who have lost jobs receiving unemployment through the CARES Act, evictions on hold and utilities functioning, people are feeling “somewhat safe right now,” according to Kearns, who is also president of the SVDP conference at St. Michael the Archangel, Glen Allen.

“But put this together — unemployment through the CARES Act is set to expire in July, stimulus checks will be long gone by then, and with the Payroll Protection Program companies had to agree not to reduce head counts until June 30, but after that they can do what they want and it is not going to impact their loans,” he said. “All of this coming together looks like a really, really bad storm from July through Labor Day. The worst is coming.”

Constant need for food

Even if the “friends” — the term SVDP uses for the people they serve — are receiving aid from other sources during COVID-19, food is always requested.

At. St. Matthew, Virginia Beach, the Vincentians have operated the food pantry since 2015. 

“If you come to us for food, we’ll give it to you,” said Krissann Zoby, SVDP conference president. “We’ve always had food.”

Until coronavirus restrictions went into effect on March 22, the pantry was open from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays and Thursdays. 

“Just prior to closing, we made a big outreach to the people we regularly serve,” Zoby said. “We took food out to as many people as we could. That was our last-ditch effort. We haven’t been able to do anything since.”

She praised the generosity of parishioners whose in-kind donations of food to the pantry topped $37,000 last year.

“We have a lot of older people,” Zoby said. “Even if people don’t have a lot of money, they contribute food.”

As the impact of COVID-19 is felt this summer and fall, a stocked pantry will be vital, she said.

“They’ll go through this (stimulus) money and I don’t know if they’ll get back to work as quickly as they wanted,” Zoby said of the friends they serve. “There’ll be a greater demand for our pantry. We’ll have greater requests for financial assistance, too.”

With limited financial support, she said the conference is careful how it spends its resources.

“We can’t spend money that we don’t have, and God will give us what we need,” Zoby said. “He’s always, always, always done that.”

Planning for what might happen

A basic element of SVDP outreach is the home visit during which two Vincentians meet a friend at their residence. That aspect of the ministry has been curtailed due to COVID-19.

“Not being able to do that in person is a difficult thing,” said Anne Hogan, president of the SVDP conference at St. Andrew, Roanoke. “We’ve reverted to phone calls, but we have not gotten many calls. If calls come to us, instead of home visits, someone will make contact by phone.”

Hogan said that since people are utilizing area food banks, their conference tries to collaborate with other organizations.

“If the Knights of Columbus are doing a food drive, St. Vincent de Paul can help with that,” she said.

The conference is planning and preparing to receive at least a dozen calls a month during summer rather than the three or four they usually get. 

“Whether it is early summer or mid-summer, when all of the (stops on) eviction notices and cutoff of utilities are lifted, there are going to be a lot of people in a panic because I don’t know when people are getting their stimulus money,” Hogan said, adding she hoped they used it to cover needs.

“If it is somebody who has no income and they are using (stimulus money) to pay their groceries and their electric bill, it probably wasn’t enough to pay all of that plus a mortgage, so I have a feeling that come early or mid-summer a lot of the conferences are going to be hit with some major need,” she said. “I’m glad we’re in pretty good financial shape to help out some people.”

Help wanted

As the SVDP conferences prepare financially for meeting the needs their friends will have, they are hoping they will also attract people who want to be Vincentians.

Noting that 50% of the calls the St. Michael conference receives are from areas not currently served by SVDP, Kearns said, “There’s still hope that we get more people and parishes interested in joining this effort.”

Hogan said the St. Andrew conference, which has 15 active members, needs more Vincentians.

“We don’t want to burn out the active members we have,” she said.

With 12 active members in the St. Matthew conference, Zoby termed increasing membership its “greatest need.”

“We would like to have younger, active people who are committed to spiritual growth, friendship and then as a conference they see the food pantry,” she said.  “Membership is first about growth in holiness and then we need volunteers who want to pray for and with people.”

Before COVID-19 hit, Zoby started a conference call prayer meeting with Vincentians. She has continued it through the pandemic.

“We always pray just for the purpose of prayer,” she said. “We really feel by doing that we’re going to attract people who understand that foremost this is what we’re about.”

She added, “I fully believe God blesses us and we can bless others and that is the whole reason for St. Vincent de Paul, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have this ministry.”

Editor’s note: For more information about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul or to support its work, contact Dan Kearns at Info@svdp-rva.org.