St. Vincent de Paul Society expands reach
Serving unmet needs, providing access to a decent, clean bed, and helping donors feel a part of the mission with a monthly giving program and periodic in-person updates.
These recent initiatives at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Omaha reflect new ways the society is reaching out to potential clients and donors, said Ramon Calzada, executive director.
To serve unmet needs, the society in December began Ozanam Outreach, named after Blessed Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam, the French founder of the society, and designed to help people who need assistance but don’t live in an area served by a parish-based St. Vincent de Paul conference (or chapter), Calzada said.
The society’s operations include 30 Omaha conferences, three Columbus conferences and one conference in Norfolk, which raise and distribute money within their own boundaries. It also has four thrift stores and a food pantry in the Omaha area and a food pantry and thrift store in Columbus.
"When people in need call our helpline, we refer them to the appropriate parish for help," Calzada said. "But our volunteers realized that many calls are from people who don’t live in a parish area."
Half of the calls come from unserved areas, particularly in northeast Omaha, he said.
Now, volunteers staffing the helpline – 402-346-5445 – can refer people to parish conference volunteers who staff Ozanam Outreach. And those volunteers meet with people who live outside conference boundaries, providing help from Ozanam Outreach’s separate budget, mostly to clients in danger of eviction or utility shutoffs, Calzada said.
"We are currently taking one or two clients per week through this outreach, and we’re hoping to expand and raise more funds for the effort," he said.
BEDS AND MORE
Another initiative is selling mattresses at the society’s stores, Calzada said. "We used to sell beds, and somehow it was dropped, but we’ve realized there is a big need for mattresses because of bedbug problems."
So the St. Vincent de Paul Society partners with the Chicago Mattress Company to provide refurbished mattresses, box springs and bed frames, said Kami Havyer, district manager of the society’s stores.
The mattresses come from high-end hotels and college dormitories, she said. "When they arrive at their warehouse, the company inspects them for wear-and-tear, stains and bedbugs."
Any problem material is removed and discarded, and the remaining materials are cleaned and sanitized and new material is applied. The finished mattresses and box springs are sprayed again with a sanitizer and sealed in plastic, Havyer said.
"There’s a huge demand here in Omaha," she said, "so we’re trying to get the word out that they’re available."
Parish conferences can provide vouchers for clients to purchase the mattresses from any St. Vincent de Paul store in the Omaha area, or anyone can come to a store and purchase them, she said. Prices range from $169 for a twin set to $457 for a king size memory foam set.
Sales began in January, she said, and the society is looking into providing bedding such as new sheet sets, pillows and mattress pads, she said.
To help fund its programs and services, the St. Vincent de Paul Society began a monthly giving program in March called "Apostles of Charity," Calzada said, to help donors get involved on a regular basis.
"We want them to feel that they’re a mission partner," he said. So, they are periodically invited to breakfast or lunch to hear about the society’s mission and how they can help with its projects.
Monthly giving also helps provide a more predictable cash flow for the society’s operating budget. Many people like to donate to specific projects, but it’s harder to get donations for everyday operations, he said.
To become a monthly donor, people can go to svdpomaha.com, click on the donor page and follow the instructions, he said.