By Nick Diamantides
The good work done by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul has been one of the best kept secrets in the Long Beach area. Now, however, the Society wants everyone to know what it is doing in hopes of enlisting the support of more donors and volunteers in its efforts to provide assistance to the poor and hurting people of this region.
To gain the attention of the public, last Monday the Society hosted a luncheon to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the opening of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store at 2750 E. Pacific Coast Highway, in Long Beach. About 40 people attended the event, which took place on the patio behind the thrift store. David Fields, executive director of the Society’s Council of Los Angeles, was the keynote speaker, but he began by introducing Oscar Solis, bishop of the San Pedro Region of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
“It is a tremendous blessing on our church to have St. Vincent de Paul as a partner in our work of God’s mission,” Solis said. “I have a strong feeling that now that you have made yourself so much more visible, the work of charity to our brothers and sisters who are in need will be strengthened.” Solis noted that he would continue to encourage more priests and laypeople to participate in the work done by the Society.
Fields noted that the Los Angeles Council is part of the Society’s international operations. “We are in 142 countries, and we have close to one million volunteers who help do the work of the Society,” he said. “In Africa, what we do with a family in Nairobi is, we provide them with a male and female goat.” He explained that the goats provide milk and income to poor families and help them to improve the quality of their lives.
“That is a sample of what we do on the international level,” Fields said. “Locally, there are 300 parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and we have conferences in slightly more than 100 of those parishes.” He explained that a conference is a lay group. “It is a grassroots organization of people working at the parish level so when someone comes to a pastor and says, ‘I need food,’ the pastor calls up the Society and we will send someone to meet with that person to determine what their needs are.”
Fields explained that Society workers will console the needy person and give him or her the assistance or supplies that are appropriate to their need. “We are not going to require them to pray, but if they are so inclined we will assist them with that,” he said. “We do not discriminate based on age, sex, sexual persuasion, national origin or race. We help everyone. Our creed is ‘No act of charity is foreign to the Society.’”
Fields stressed that because the needs of the poor are so great in this region, the Society aims to have a conference in all 300 parishes of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “That would give us full exposure and the greatest ability to meet the needs of the poor,” he noted.
Thrift stores are part of the way the Society raises funds to support its service to the poor. Fields noted that currently the Archdiocese has three such stores, in Long Beach, Oxnard and Los Angeles.
“We also have the Cardinal Manning Center, which is a shelter on Skid Row (in Los Angeles) where we house over 100 people each night,” Fields said. “Most of those are men, but in the back of the center we have an area for women and children.” He added that one of the Society’s important goals is to get women and children off of Skid Row. To do so, the Society is hoping to acquire the use of properties in the region in order to establish shelters for homeless women and children.
Fields mentioned that the Society operates a winter shelter in the Oxnard area to provide a warm place for the homeless to sleep during the cold months and operates a prisoner resettlement program to help recently released prison inmates get back on their feet without repeating the mistakes of the past. He added that, in addition, the Society operates the Circle V Ranch Camp near Lake Cachuma for underprivileged youth.
Fields said he believes that, when more people become aware of the significant contribution the Society makes locally, more volunteers and donors will step up to increase the positive impact. “The needs of close to 127,000 homeless, disadvantaged, and working-poor individuals were met last year thanks to the Los Angeles Council’s more than 2,000 year-round Vincentian Volunteers that make up the 100-plus active conferences in the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara,” he said.
Fourth District Long Beach City Councilman Patrick O’Donnell attended the luncheon, and he had good words to say about the Society. “You guys have been one of the best neighbors we’ve had in this area,” O’Donnell said. “This group has come out on weekends to participate in neighborhood cleanups and has absolutely tried to build a bond with the greater community.” He noted that city officials greatly appreciate the assistance the Society offers to the poor. On behalf of the mayor and entire city council, O’Donnell gave Fields a certificate thanking the Society for its presence in Long Beach.