St. Vincent de Paul volunteers find a way to help

By 
  • December 18, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Society of St. Vincent de Paul volunteer Dave McLewin starts his car on a chilly December morning and prepares for a Christmas season visit with clients.

“Business is certainly up,” he remarks during the drive to Nickeisha Hitchman’s apartment.

Recipients in St. Basil’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul outreach program are up by 70 per cent since 2006, said McLewin, 71 and in his fourth year as a volunteer.

On this day, two volunteers go on home visits to deliver food vouchers. During the Christmas season, families also receive a hamper filled with food, clothing and toys, and all clients receive an extra voucher.

He notes a spike in demand is being felt by other charitable organizations, with requests for donations increasing while donations are not keeping pace. Yet even with more demand and tightening purse strings, McLewin said the significant increase in clients is a challenge St. Vincent de Paul outreach has always met.

Hitchman, 28, said she appreciates the help to buy food for her and two-year-old daughter, Christina, especially during these tough economic times.

“It’s hard to find jobs now. Things are more expensive, so the service is more important,” she said.

Hitchman is finishing courses at Yorkdale Adult Learning Centre, an adult day school which grants high school credits. Hitchman hopes to study nursing.

Hitchman had worked on contract as an assistant cook at St. John’s Shelter which helps homeless women and children. Since her contract expired, Hitchman has been receiving employment insurance.

After the goodbyes, McLewin drives to one of the volunteer’s cheeriest clients. Wendy Wallace is among the  “favourite” recipients, he notes, because of her positive attitude, no matter the circumstances.

Wallace, 54, recently survived a stroke and is legally blind. She has three adult children and lives alone in a community housing apartment.

Many of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s clients at St. Basil’s are like Wallace: single adults, some with adult children. A few young families, including single mothers, also make use of the service.

The St. Vincent de Paul assistance has been crucial to Wallace.

“I would not eat,” she said. “I go to the food bank but what they give you, it’s gone within a few days.”

Wallace also makes a once-a-month stop at the Scott Mission and has noticed that more demand for resources has meant not as many goods available as before.

“This recession has hit everyone hard,” she notes.

With the food vouchers she receives from St. Vincent de Paul, she is able to buy dairy products or the odd can of food for her cat, Phoebe.

This Christmas, Wallace said she will be at her apartment with Phoebe because “it’s too far for my family to come,” although her teenaged grandson may drop by for a surprise visit.

Volunteers like McLewin don’t just bring vouchers, she said, they are like friends who visit once a month and check in on how she’s doing and what’s new in her life.

“It’s so important to be acknowledged,” Wallace said with a smile.

McLewin says they’re ready to provide more help as it’s needed.

“We’re in a tight situation,” he said. “(But) we’ve never turned away a needy person and we never will. We will find a way.”

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