The pandemic has put a spotlight on volunteer efforts in the community. Above, Lorna Bahamondes delivers groceries on behalf of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Photo by Michael Swan

St. Vincent de Paul Society keeps marching forward amid pandemic difficulties

  • March 12, 2021

A year into the COVID pandemic and the Vincentian resiliency has not withered as Canadian chapters of the St. Vincent de Paul Society continue to help people in need.

The SSVP conference at Nativity of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church in Etobicoke, Ont., is an example as the parish Vincentians hosted another Bundle Up weekend March 6-7 in the parish parking lot to provide support for approximately 120 families in the community. Gently-used clothing, shoes and boots, bedding, drapes, towels, new toys and monetary donations were among the items organizers sought from parishioners at this drop-off donation event.

Liam Cameron, the organizer of the event, was heartened by how much interest he received leading up to the weekend.

“Our congregation is always very generous, but there seemed to be a lot more interest for whatever reason this time,” said Cameron, a volunteer for SSVP at Nativity of Our Lord for most of the last three decades. “Normally I would always get five or six calls, but there were over 40 calls from people who were interested.”

He also assists with orchestrating at-home pickups for families that wished to donate but couldn’t make a trip to the drop-off location on Rathburn Road. Parishioners and others who did drop off donations in person were supported by on-site volunteers maintaining distancing protocols.

When asked what has driven him to his longtime fidelity to the SSVP, Cameron offered up the well-known credo about how “a society can be judged by how it helps its most vulnerable members.”

Examining SSVP at a national scope, Richard Pommainville, the executive director for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul National Council of Canada, said its dedicated membership — at least 15,000 “on the conservative side” — works to serve “roughly one per cent of the Canadian population.” That means approximately 380,000 Canadians benefit from SSVP’s suite of person-to-person support services such as food aid, home visits, sheltering, refugee support, educational help and emergency relief.

Pommainville is proud of how the Canadian SSVP community from coast-to-coast rose to the occasion during the past year and efforts have been made to highlight good news stories.

“We’ve been asking everyone to send in those good news stories to put on our Facebook page or in our monthly publication,” he said. “You can be humble about what you do, but it is also good for people to know you’re helping because that informs people in need that you are helping and they can reach out for assistance.”

Anticipating a continuance of COVID-19 restrictions for the next few months, Pommainville says the SSVP is looking ahead to gauge what the terrain will look like after government pandemic-assistance programs expire. It is also strategizing approaches to diversifying funding and continuing to refine different forums of communicating with the families served.

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