The visible work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is personal service to the poor. Nowhere was this more evident than at the SVdP District 9 back to school event held at St. Gall Parish in Chicago.
More than 60 Society members, volunteers and sponsors came together and distributed free school supplies and food to approximately 960 needy families, including 1,800 children, on August 20, 2014 in the St. Gall Parish parking lot at 5513 South Sawyer Avenue.
"There's such a need in the neighborhood. These people are barely making it. A lot of them are working people, but they just don't have enough funds to provide the necessary school supplies for their children," said Barbara Lakomiak, president of District 9.
Mid-August hazy sun and heat did not deter families who waited in a line that stretched three blocks long. They came from all over the area—Ashland to Narragansett and from 65th to 28th street.
Back to school essentials such as backpacks, folders, and pencils were distributed to children in grades one through 12. Children in need of a trim were even treated to the traditional back to school haircut courtesy of Lucy De La Luz Beauty Shop. "I'm just so grateful that what we talk about in church and what we teach in school is put into practice here," said St. Gall Pastor Gary Graf. "St. Vincent de Paul allows the church to be alive and well—and seen—allowing us to put into practice, our faith," he said.
A separate food line for families in need provided fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, cereal, snack bars, canned goods, and meat.
Donations came from many other St. Vincent de Paul parish conferences, individuals, and businesses such as Five Below in Countryside who donated $600 worth of school supplies. Supportive individuals like Alderman Edward Burke stopped by to mingle with the families and volunteers, and toured the recently renovated SVdP District 9 food pantry at St. Gall. "Anyone who sees this has to be impressed. The folks who volunteer with this group are really God's angels," he said.
For many years, Alderman Burke has been a generous donor and supporter of the food pantry allowing St. Vincent de Paul to help those in need in the community, especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
This was the eighth year the SVdP District 9 food pantry and several other SVdP conferences joined together at St. Gall to help families get their children ready for the new school year. But every week, families who are struggling to make ends meet must rely on the food pantry here. The St. Gall pantry serves approximately 500 families a week or 7,000 individuals a month.
"Most of the people are from this area, but we don't have borders; we don't close this pantry to anyone who is hungry; we just help them out," said Liz Arreola, founder and director of the SVdP District 9 food pantry.
To donate food or make a financial contribution to the St. Vincent de Paul District 9 food pantry and/or annual back to school event, please call 312.655.7182.
Special thanks to Al Schoen, M. McDonald and the following SVdP conferences for their generosity: St. Bernadine, St. Catherine, St. Damian, St. Daniels, St. Francis Xavier, St. George, St. James, St. Stephen, St. Symphorosa, St. Turibius, and St. Zachary.