It was a regular Friday morning at The Society of St. Vincent de Paul food pantry at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church when a woman pulled up to collect the food that she ordered through the new contactless system. When the woman mentioned that she needed additional financial help, the volunteers talked with her for more than half an hour to find a solution. It is moments like these that make The Society of St. Vincent de Paul special.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international organization founded in the 1800s to provide assistance to those in need. As of August of 2018, there were 4,441 conferences in the United States. Within the Archdiocese of Baltimore, there are over 39 churches involved and over 800 society members, including the St. John the Evangelist conference.
“What's special about St. Vincent de Paul is that it helps in all aspects of people’s lives,” said the Rev. Evan Ponton, who is the associate pastor at St. John the Evangelist. “They are caring for the whole person. It's not just supplying material needs, but doing so with a spiritual heart.”
The St. John the Evangelist conference has existed for more than 30 years to serve neighbors in Severna Park, Arnold, Millersville, Pasadena and Severn.
“That is what St. Vincent de Paul does,” said conference president Cindy Halloran. “We don’t want to put Band-Aids on people in need. We want to help them move on. Several of our volunteers have backgrounds in social work. We have school teachers, we have lawyers, and they are able to work together to find resources.”
There are no paid staff at the pantry. St. Vincent de Paul is run entirely by volunteers.
“Our volunteers have a way of being empathetic and asking the right questions to make people feel comfortable opening their hearts and help them in many ways,” Halloran said.
So long as funding is available, and it will increase someone’s quality of life, St. Vincent de Paul will not turn anyone away.
“Our financial assistance is funded entirely from the poor box,” said Halloran. “That is all from the generosity of the parishioners at St. John. We have a certain amount that we generally offer to people who need help with an eviction, rental assistance, utilities or medications.”
St. Vincent de Paul works with Anne Arundel County to find resources that provide additional support to neighbors who are struggling. The pantry also receives food from the Anne Arundel County Food Bank, although most of the supply is from parishioner donations.
Due to the pandemic, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul went on hiatus. The financial assistance went remote quickly, but it took time to come up with a solution for meal distributions.
“We shut down our in-person contact because of the virus,” Halloran said. “We overcame that in a unique way. We had our neighbors call us. People who needed food, we would send gift cards to Walmart, Giant and local grocery stores.”
The gift card total was determined by the amount of people in the family, and the cards were distributed by mail.
After much consideration and “out of the box” thinking, the society decided to try contactless delivery in addition to the remote system. Where neighbors would typically be allowed to select their own food from the pantry, volunteers are now pre-filling bags and distributing them during scheduled pantry hours by appointment.
Although the experience is not the same, Halloran said that all of the volunteers are excited to get back to doing what they love — helping people in need.
“The pantry is important to the volunteers,” Halloran said. “We all get something out of it. We gain friendships among ourselves and among our neighbors.”
The pantry is staffed by volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00am to noon and 2:00pm to 4:00pm, and Fridays from 10:00am to noon. To learn more about St. Vincent de Paul or to get in touch with a volunteer, call 443-261-0109 during pantry hours.