The Society of St. Vincent de Paul aims to improve the customer experience at its stores. Photo from Google Street View

St. Vincent de Paul Society looks for personal touch

By 
  • November 16, 2019

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul plans to take its operations to the next level as it moves into the new decade.

The organization has been in Canada since 1846, primarily serving families, the homeless, the poor and neglected in society.

“The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is founded on the principle of serving persons in need,” said Richard Pommainville, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. “At the centre of the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the person-to-person contact; this activity of charity is the fundamental characteristic of the society. Members of the society offer their goods, talents and wealth in the service of their neighbours, persons in need, by primarily conducting home visits.”

Earlier this year Statistics Canada reported a decline in poverty rates. About 622,000 children lived below the poverty line in 2017, down about 18 per cent from 2016.

Pommainville said the numbers do not imply that there is a decline in people in need, stating that most charitable organizations are reporting an increase in demand.

“Currently, in the labour market, there is a lot of precarious work which makes it more difficult for people to stabilize their living environment, such as having access to property or delaying starting a family,” said Pommainville.

He did, however, say adaption is required based on the particular situation. He mentioned the wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta., in  2016 as an example where they had to make changes.

“There were a lot of people from the Maritimes working in Alberta,  making really good money,” said Pommainville. “However, with the fire, and as well since,  the economy in Alberta is not running at the same level as previously seen. Many people returned home in their respective communities in the Maritimes. 

“At first,  they were covered by Employment Insurance (EI). Post-EI,  they started chewing up their financial reserves. We now have,  in 2019, three years later, specific support activities in Nova Scotia-Cape Breton and in Newfoundland  to support some people who were displaced by the Fort McMurray fire and are not able to find stable employment. Statistics would not always point to such a domino effect,  but by having that person-to-person contact, we can better understand the root cause of the situation.”

Pommainville said they’re now including visiting the sick in their homes or hospital and visiting those in need of companionship in person or over the phone as part of that person-to-person strategy. 

A notable area they plan to focus on is the customer experience in the store. They’re looking for ways to make sure the customer enjoys their experience. 

“There used to be a rack in the corner, which is an approach that you may have seen many years ago. Usually today, that’s not what people are expecting,” said Pommainville. “There’s a transition in the personal experience for people shopping.”

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