St. Vincent de Paul Expands Operations to Help Those in Need

This column in Attraction, by Amelia Blades Steward, visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore or are one of the organizations giving back in unique ways to better our world. She has been a freelance writer in our community for over 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul originated in 1833 in France. Students at the Sorbonne organized a Conference of Charity to help the poor. Two years later, the group adopted the formal title and rules of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, naming the organization after its patron St. Vincent de Paul who lived in Paris in the 1600s serving the poor.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was established in the United States in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1845. Today, St. Vincent de Paul works in 4,428 parish-based Conferences across the United States. Saints Peter and Paul Conference, Inc. operates the St. Vincent de Paul facility at 29533 Canvasback Drive in Easton that is a completely volunteer-run organization.

Alex Handy (left), Outgoing President of St. Vincent de Paul, and John Plaskon, Incoming President, stand in the organization’s Food Pantry, which is being renovated.

Sitting down with Alex Handy, Outgoing President of St. Vincent de Paul, and John Plaskon, Incoming President of the organization, it is apparent the organization is on the move. The organization has outgrown its facility on Canvasback Drive and will be expanding its building this summer to accommodate the increasing number of Talbot County residents it serves through its Food Pantry, Emergency Financial Assistance, and Thrift Store.

St. Vincent de Paul volunteers subscribe to the Bible verse quoting Jesus saying, “Whatever you do for the least of mine, you do unto me.”

Alex Handy recalls his introduction to the ministry, “I go to Mass every day. One day a parishioner stopped me coming out of Mass and asked me if I was familiar with the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He explained to me that the organization helps poor people and asked if I could give them a hand. Because I was still working, I started volunteering one hour once every four to six weeks.

“I started in 2002 in a little pantry like you’d have in the house behind the original church on Goldsborough Street in Easton. We were open one hour once a week.”

The church building was sold in 2005 and they moved the pantry to a little storage locker behind Wishing Well Liquors where they were for several years. Alex took over as president of St. Vincent de Paul in 2008. He made an appeal at mass one Sunday and the group got 70 volunteers and collected $23,000 for the food pantry.

“When I took over as president in 2008, we had 25 volunteers and now we have over 300 volunteers. Our numbers continue to grow,” states Alex, who has served over 16 years at the helm of the organization.

In 2023, St. Vincent de Paul provided $1.15 million in food and financial assistance. Each month, St. Vincent de Paul’s Food Pantry feeds over 500 families. Over 40% of the families are employed and over one-half have children. Clients can come on Tuesdays from 1 to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon to receive food.

“We are getting a lot more working families coming to the food pantry. People are living paycheck to paycheck because of the rising cost of food today,” Alex explains.

Talbot County residents can come to the food pantry three times a month for menu items, such as meat and produce. They can select menu items that typically include bread, dairy, and eggs. They can come twice a month for shelf-stable items, such as peanut butter, cereal, tuna fish, soup, sauces, and pasta. St. Vincent de Paul volunteers pick up food items from Easton stores four days a week. The Food Pantry also purchases from the Maryland Food Bank and shares with other food pantries in and around Talbot County.

According to Alex, they are also getting a lot more people coming for financial assistance. St. Vincent Advisors help clients with rent and mortgage payments, utilities, clothing, housewares, prescriptions, health care needs, transportation, and other related expenses on Tuesdays from 1 to 4 p.m., Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. If clients are homeless, St. Vincent de Paul can provide them with temporary hotel stays and work with the Neighborhood Service Center and other agencies for more permanent placement. Bilingual volunteers are also available.

St. Vincent de Paul’s Thrift Store sells donated items to fund the Food Pantry, emergency financial assistance, and operating costs. The Thrift Store sells men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, housewares, children’s books, toys, and furniture. It also offers a Boutique that features high-end clothing and accessories. Between Halloween and Christmas, the Thrift Store also sells holiday decorations.

The Thrift Store’s Boutique features high-end clothing and accessories.

Additional services include free pickup of furniture donations, as well as furniture delivery for a fee. The Thrift Store is open Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thrift Store donations are accepted on Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. only.

Anyone can volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul and the organization continues to recruit new volunteers daily as people’s availability changes.

“I’ve been President for 16 years, since 2008. And you know, the Holy Spirit sent John to us.”

John Plaskon was the Executive Director of Crossroads Community and Corsica River Mental Health Services. One day, one of his board members, who was involved with St. Vincent de Paul, asked him if he could help move furniture for them because they had heard that he had paid his way through college moving furniture.

“So, as soon as I retired, he asked me if I would volunteer in the furniture department of the Thrift Store because they were looking for people. I started out volunteering on Saturdays, once or twice a month. Then one Saturday I helped them in the Food Pantry to load the bags of food into the cars. I now also volunteer in the Food Pantry on Wednesday mornings.”

The Thrift Store also offers furniture and housewares.

When Alex heard John had experience with building expansions in his previous job, he asked him to take over as project manager of St. Vincent de Paul’s current building expansion project which is set to begin this summer.

The 2,500-square-foot addition will house an expanded Food Pantry and a newly configured parking lot will better accommodate the heavy traffic to the food pantry on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The new parking lot will also enable better access to the Thrift Store. Additional benefits to the expansion will include renovations to the Boutique for more retail floor space and new dressing rooms, and a bigger donation area, with increased storage space for the Thrift Store. The expansion will also add significantly more space for advising clients, as well as an administrative area for volunteers. The Center will stay open through the renovations. It is hoped the expansion and renovations will be fully completed by the end of 2024.

“Although we have outgrown this building, a lot of people still don’t know we are here. We want to improve upon that,” adds Alex.

John looks forward to seeing the expansion come to fruition under his guidance, offering the organization the opportunity to help even more people in the future.

For further information, visit svdpeastonmd.org or call 410-770-4505.

 

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