The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded on a challenge. In 1833, Frédéric Ozanam, a law student at the Sorbonne, was asked about the practical impact of his Catholic faith. His answer was to establish a philanthropic organization that would serve the residents of some of Paris’ most impoverished neighborhoods. Within a few years, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul spread across Europe, and it reached America with the creation of the St. Louis chapter in 1845. Today, the nonprofit remains dedicated to providing person-to-person services to the members of our community who need it most.
With more than 3,400 trained volunteers involved in hundreds of thousands of hours of community service each year, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is organized into neighborhood groups. While affiliated with local parishes, you don’t have to be Catholic to be part of the nonprofit, according to executive director John Foppe. “We’re always looking for people who want to serve the community, help their neighbors and grow closer to God,” he says. “The pillars of our mission are spirituality, friendship and service. Our work is done person to person, so we directly help people right here in St. Louis.”
The foundation of the society’s work is home visits. In pairs, volunteers go to the homes of families to get an understanding of what basic needs they may be struggling with. The nonprofit helps people address food insecurity, pay rent or other utilities and provides much needed items, such as beds. “We have a variety of additional poverty assistance programs, including transportation services to ensure people can get to work,” Foppe says. “We also run a prescription drug assistance program to provide medication at no cost, and many parishes have their own unique ministries.”
The nonprofit operates nine thrift stores in the metropolitan area. “Anyone can shop, and all purchases go toward supporting people in need,” Foppe says. “We’re also always looking for people to donate items. Our mantra is ‘Shop. Donate. Volunteer.’” To offer further support, the nonprofit has a voucher program. If volunteers see that a family needs specific items, they can write and distribute vouchers during home visits. That way families can pick up furniture and other things from Society of St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores without having to pay for them out of pocket.
With the impact of the pandemic ongoing, the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been more important than ever. Foppe notes local families were hit hard, with more people seeking help as inflation impacted the cost of living. “We’re a basic needs organization,” he says. “There are so many wonderful nonprofits that focus on important issues like mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse. Our goal is to help stabilize people who don’t have a roof over their head, can’t pay their bills or are struggling to put food on their table. That way they can take advantage of other organizations’ services and do more prolonged work to better their lives.”
With more than 3,400 volunteers, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been helping meet the basic needs of the St. Louis community since 1845. Pictured on the cover: Volunteers visit the home of a local family. For more information or to donate,
visit svdpstlouis.org or call 314.881.6000.
Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo courtesy of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Pictured at top: Volunteers conduct home visits to learn what local families need.
Photo courtesy of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul