St. Vincent de Paul of Los Angeles
Written by Ray Sweet, President of SVdPLA
A group of college students was assessing the problem of local poverty and homelessness when they were challenged to find a solution. The year was 1833 and the university was the Sorbonne in Paris. Rising to the occasion was a young student named Frederic Ozanam. He and some fellow Catholics decided to meet the challenge with an innovative program that included venturing into the slums of Paris, providing food, clothing, and firewood to the poor of the city. They chose as their patron St. Vincent de Paul, already famous as the consummate devotee of the poor. Thus was born the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
A mere 12 years later the charismatic movement had come to St. Louis in 1845. The Society reached Los Angeles in 1908, which now encompasses Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara Counties, and is served by 2,500 volunteers. Worldwide the Society cares for the poor in 160 countries with over one million volunteers. Members of the organization–we call ourselves Vincentians— specialize in one of the core activities of the Society: the home visit, an in-person encounter to fully assess the challenges facing the struggling person or family. While the pandemic has curtailed this direct contact, cell phones and the Internet have allowed us to continue assisting with delinquent bills, rent, car repairs, or whatever financial setbacks people may face, regardless of their faith. Not all our activities have gone virtual, however. Our many food pantries, for example, have received increased donations, enabling us to feed more of the hungry, many of whom are first-timers. In fact, due to the extraordinary efforts of our Vincentian Services staff and despite social restrictions, we were able to establish three new Conferences of Charity in parishes around the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2020.
We have been operating our Cardinal Manning Center on Skid Row since the mid-1950s. It’s an oasis of comfort where the homeless can drop in and receive access to food, restrooms, computers, and other basics. The 65-bed facility offers the homeless residents rehabilitation, counseling, and job training while transitioning them into permanent housing and employment. Our dedicated social workers and case managers have exhibited great resourcefulness and ingenuity as social distancing has altered long-standing protocols. Their ongoing devotion to these vulnerable members of society is inspirational.
In addition to donations and bequests which we need and gratefully welcome, income is generated from our two thrift stores, one in L.A. the other in Long Beach. This income funds part of our operations and provides employment for about 80 workers who might otherwise be among the city’s homeless. The pandemic forced the shutdown of our stores for a couple of months, but they are recovering nicely as “thrifting” becomes ever more popular. Our trucks provide free pick up of donated clothing, furniture, appliances, and other usable household items for sale or for a needy family unable to afford them. To donate, simply call 1-800-974-3571. Also, donated cars are lined up for sale in front of our store–another source of income that supports our outreach.
Our “Crown Jewel” is our 75-year-old summer camp for boys and girls north of Santa Barbara. Circle V Ranch Camp has a trained staff of college students offering positive role models for the youngsters, many of whom come from foster or group homes. We are anticipating reopening camp this summer after several seasons of closure due to fire damage and Covid-19, which has left hundreds of disappointed children missing what is for many the highlight of their year. At a cost of $650 per child for a week of camp, these disadvantaged youth depend on “camperships” to attend. We turn to individual donations and foundations to help fund this life-changing experience.
The vision and prayerful example of Blessed Frederic Ozanam have inspired and touched the lives of millions for nearly two centuries. Still, a bird’s-eye view of today’s L.A. maps out sprawling streets dotted with the tent cities of ever-growing homelessness. We invite you to join us in continuing to feed, clothe, house, and heal. Please consider donating.