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An Old Pair of Shoes for a Box of Cheerios - A St Vincent de Paul Story
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This year the Society of St Vincent de Paul celebrates its 179th anniversary. The organization was founded by Fredric Ozanam and his university companions in France in 1833. Thirteen years later, in 1846 Dr. Joseph Painchaud, a companion of Frederic, established the Society in Canada in Quebec City. The mission was then and is now: to live the gospel message by serving Christ in the poor with love, respect, justice and joy.

Today there are St Vincent de Paul conferences in 147 countries including Canada where there are 342 conferences across the country. There are 12 conferences and 2 SSVP Stores in London, providing food, clothing, furniture and household items to our friends in need, irrespective of their religious affiliation.

Last year the St Vincent De Paul conferences in Canada served 449,000 people and the need is growing.

Enough about numbers. These numbers are people, and these people are struggling. Thankfully there are ministries like St Vincent de Paul, Ark Aid Street Mission, Sanctuary London, The Mens Mission, the London Food Bank, the churches of London and many, many more agencies and outreach programs working tirelessly to provide assistance and comfort to those in need.

"It is wrong that anyone in Canada can be hungry, not have a safe place to live, not have access to proper medical care and not receive the best education possible". Many people will make this statement but it is not out of compassion. Too often some of our fellow Londoners will say this in tone meaning those that are living without the "normal" comforts are doing so by choice. Their tunnel vision has them believing that no one needs to live in poverty if they don't want to.

Granted, there are some that are OK with living off the generosity of others, choosing not to put in any effort to improve their situations but this group is a very small percentage of those asking for help.

The majority of the people asking for help are not lazy people looking for a handout. These are the people that cannot work because of physical or mental disabilities. These are the people that have just arrived in our country with absolutely nothing after escaping from the brutality of gangs, rebels or corrupt governments of their homelands. These are the people that have been on the receiving end of plant closures or company downsizing that has left them without employment and without income. These are the single mothers or fathers that are the working poor holding one, two or more low paying part time jobs that just don't pay enough to cover even the basic living expenses such as rent, utilities, bus fare, proper clothing and cost of the food.

Each St Vincent de Paul conference in London provides short-term help by making food available to the needy in their area of service. Every month there is more demand, more families that just can’t make ends meet.

Many need more than just the food. There are destitute families with no warm clothing for themselves and their children. The volunteer teams from St Vincent de Paul then arrange for them to obtain clothing and if needed, and so often it is, a bed, a table and chairs, some plates, knives and forks Free of charge from the St Vincent de Paul Thrift Stores.

When new volunteers join St Vincent de Paul, they all have underestimated the seriousness of the problem and are astonished when they learn that there are hundreds of impoverished families within walking distance from their church, a church nestled in a nice, quiet middle class section of the city. No, it is not just a downtown problem or only a problem in "that poor area of the city", there are people needing help in every neighborhood in this city. Today, there are no neighborhoods in London that have immunity from poverty.

Every St Vincent de Paul volunteer learns the extent of the need very quickly. Often, when they make a delivery to a young family, a small child of six or seven greets them at the door and wants to help carry the box of food. And then, the little one digs through the cardboard carton of food and smiles ear to ear when he pulls out a box of Cheerios or a jar of strawberry jam. And then some tears and a sincere thank you comes from the mother. And then the good bye and the silent walk the two volunteers take down the hall and back to the car. So many thoughts going through their minds but no words are spoken.

Sad stories indeed but there are many heartwarming stories as well.

It is not unusual for a person to become a St Vincent de Paul volunteer after being a recipient of assistance from St Vincent de Paul a year before. Many of the people served are so appreciative; they want to give back to the community as soon as they can.

There are even times that St Vincent de Paul volunteers return from a delivery with more than what they took to the family in need. The family has gathered up some things from around their home that they want to give to the volunteers to give to others. It may be an old pair of shoes, a child's book or measuring cup - something that may be a help to another as they are being helped this day.

It does not take prosperity to be generous but generosity is prosperity of the soul.

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If you have furniture, clothing and other household items to donate - St Vincent de Paul will put it where it is most needed. Furniture will be picked up by calling 519.438.7071 and clothing etc. can be dropped off at the St. Vincent de Paul Store at 585 York Street.