Nonprofit Spotlight: Society of St. Vincent de Paul — Madison
by Samantha Haas
on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022 at 1:14pm.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “St. Vincent de Paul” or “St. Vinny’s”? If you immediately think of the thrift stores with the blue SVP logo, you’re not alone. They are a popular place to donate used clothing, furniture, and other items and find some incredible deals. They also provide employment opportunities for more than 260 people in Dane County alone!
While the thrift stores certainly are a recognizable feature of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — Madison, this international nonprofit that began in Paris in the 1800s offers several other important services related to food, medicine, and housing to further its mission of “helping neighbors in need, primarily through person-to-person contact made by volunteer members.” Locally, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — Madison began in 1925 and currently has about 400 members organized in 18 conferences, or various parishes, throughout Dane County. However, you don’t have to be Catholic to get involved, volunteer, or receive services.
These services include the only charitable pharmacy for low-income, uninsured adults of its kind in the state; a men’s housing program on Baldwin Street called Port St. Vincent de Paul; a poverty remediation program (for single custodial adults with minor children to stabilize families in housing who were previously homeless or doubled up) called the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Program; long-term goods storage for folks who are homeless called Vinny’s Lockers; a voucher program to receive furniture, clothing, or household goods from one of the seven thrift stores (three in Madison plus one each in Stoughton, Sun Prairie, Verona, and Waunakee); help with utility and other assistance on a case-by-case basis; and one of Madison’s busiest food pantries.
“Your pharmacy was the only place that helped me with my medical needs. You were there when I was in desperate need of specific medications.” — Robert, Charitable Pharmacy patient
The most critical resource of late has been the food pantry, which is located at Middlecamp Center for Vincentian Charity, 2033 Fish Hatchery Rd, Madison, but has operated as an outside drive-thru ever since the pandemic began. The food pantry saw an 84% increase in food distribution in September 2022 from the previous year, likely due to “increased inflation and prices skyrocketing for everything,” said Katherine Higgins, Communications Manager. “More folks are turning to us. For example, the average number of households we serve each day has increased from 107 in May to 170 in mid-November; and recently a record of 277 households visited us in a 4-hour shift.”
At the same time, Higgins said the pandemic “dramatically decreased” the number of volunteers from 1,000 down to just about 83 in part due to social distancing measures. “Interestingly, we are providing food to even more people with less volunteer help. There’s been a lot of change in the pantry to make that happen.” Food pantry changes include offering online ordering to give folks more of a selection and reduce waste, pick up via outdoor drive-thru, and delivery options by partnering with DoorDash since transportation is such a barrier for people. More volunteers are needed to help sort and package food, since each family can receive 75 pounds of prepackaged pantry stables and household goods every two weeks.
“It’s a huge blessing. A blessing of food which goes a long way. All of these people out here to help, it’s amazing! Food is expensive, rent is expensive, and this helps to cover other expenses like my rent and utilities. I can’t thank you enough.” — Geoff, Food Pantry guest
“Folks are still getting a 1:1 touchpoint with staff. Staff are checking online orders and deliveries, so they are in constant contact with folks. They are connecting people with our other assistance programs and can even direct them to additional resources, just like how we operated pre-pandemic,” Higgins said. “We’ve been quite nimble in our ability to meet the needs of the community and adjust our services to help people.”
St. Vincent de Paul — Madison is looking to increase their volunteer numbers. If you are interested in providing food to hungry families, ensuring adults can get the prescriptions they need, or helping neighbors in need, consider joining their active and passionate team. Financial donations are always welcome, too. The nonprofit’s big push of the year is for Giving Tuesday, which they recognize a week early on November 22nd.