As unemployment continues to hover near the 10 percent mark, a lumbering economy has forced many people to seek some kind of assistance from government agencies.
However, the number of people requesting help, combined with ever-diminishing government resources, has raised the profile of non-profit and community outreach organizations like St. Vincent de Paul at St. James the Apostle Church in Glen Ellyn.
St. Vincent de Paul is a Catholic lay organization that offers assistance to the needy or suffering. The members, who call themselves Vincentians, come from all walks of life. At St. James there are about 20 active members of St. Vincent de Paul.
"We are here to address immediate needs for the people in our parish and surrounding areas," said Vince Spinosa, president of the St. James branch.
The assistance offered by the Vincentians is only for emergency situations, said Spinosa, a 20-year member of the Catholic society. He said they do not have the resources to maintain long-term assistance. Spinosa said after they help someone out of a jam, the St. Vincent de Paul volunteers will refer the recipients to organizations that can offer more long-term assistance.
"We want to make folks aware of places they can go to seek the extended help they may need," Spinosa said.
Spinosa said the people who often seek their services wait until the situation is dire because they are ashamed or too proud to admit they need help. Spinosa said people approach them seeking assistance primarily with rent or mortgage assistance. While some organizations, such as Walk-In Ministry, can only offer about $150 towards someone's rent, Spinosa said St. Vincent de Paul has a "higher resource ceiling."
"We are very fortunate that we have parishioners who have better resources than a lot of places do. They have been very generous in helping us with our outreach," Spinosa said.
Spinosa said his organization does not hand out money to the recipients. He said if someone needs rent or mortgage assistance, the St. James branch of St. Vincent de Paul will make the payment. In addition to rent or mortgage assistance, the Vincentians will help with utilities payments or automobile assistance. An individual is typically allowed to receive assistance from the Vincentians once a year.
The services offered by the Vincentians go beyond doling out money. Spinosa said volunteers visit with the people they are assisting in order to gauge their needs as well as provide a comforting presence and prayers.
When dealing with someone needing assistance, Spinosa said the St. Vincent de Paul volunteers try to make the recipients aware of who provided the funds helping them out of their situation.
"We are a ministry. We want people to be aware that we are people of faith and we encourage them to seek faith as well," Spinsoa said.
Typical recipients of Vincentian assistance are parish members, however Spinosa said being Catholic is not a requirement to receive help.
"Even though we have some rules for who we help, we reserve the right to bend them if the need is great enough. We treat each case individually, there's no set formula for what we do," Spinosa said.
Spinsoa said one way they make parishioners aware of the doings of the organization is to tout successes in the St. James bulletin. In the Nov. 21 bulletin, Vincentian Dottie Ashley said working with the organization can be a mixed blessing. Ashley said the stories and needs of some of the people the organization helps are heart-wrenching. In her letter to the parish, Ashley described helping a woman pay her rent and utilities so she could remain with her hospitalized son, who was injured in an automobile accident. Because of the help received from St. Vincent de Paul, Ashley said the woman now wants to be able to help others who find themselves in a similar situation.
Anyone wishing to donate to St. Vincent de Paul at St. James, or needing assistance, can contact Spinosa at 630-668-2126.