By CHERIL VERNON
A local organization well known for providing a hand out to the community through its food pantry is asking the community for assistance in keeping its ministry going.
For more than 16 years St. Vincent de Paul, a ministry of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, has served eligible families in Anderson County.
“Generous donations have kept the pantry going for more than 16 years. We are at a time that we need monetary donations to keep operating,” St. Vincent de Paul Board President Linda Willett told the Herald-Press. “As you know, the cost of food continues to rise and that is true for the food we purchase from the East Texas Food Bank. Without more donations, we may have to curtail our services or give out less.”
An increased number of clients also has put the organization in need. In September, there were 42 families who came to St. Vincent de Paul for food assistance for the first time. This month, there were 523 families who received food assistance for a total of 3,967 people (more than 2,900 children), Willett said.
“We have a lot of children and a lot of single parents families as well as a lot of elderly needing assistance,” Willett said. “We service all of Anderson County not just Palestine.”
The food pantry is open from 9 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
“Families are allowed to come in once a month if they are hungry. We can't provide a month's supply of food, but we give them enough for a couple of good meals. We're not feeding them completely at all, but people are very appreciative,” Willett said. “The whole social situation these days with the lack of jobs and the economy being depressed is why we are seeing such a greater need at our doors each month.”
It takes about $7 in donations to serve the average family in food, according to her calculations, Willett said.
“So for every $7, we can feed a family,” Willett said.
In order to offset some of the food costs, St. Vincent de Paul also operates a thrift store which provides affordable clothing and other household items to the general public. Between the food pantry and thrift store, 30 volunteers are utilized to run both ministries.
“Donations of items are always appreciated and needed,” Willett said. “Every bit of money that is generated at the thrift store goes into the food pantry ministry. We have to rely on donations. Clothing, household and decorative items, bedding and baby items all sell well.”
Willett said while the thrift store isn't large enough to offer furniture, volunteers may be able to pick up larger items such as furniture and hold in a storage unit for a future garage sale to benefit the food pantry.
“A garage sale is one of the things we have explored as a way to generate more money,” Willett said. “If they can't bring the item to us, we could come and pick it up.”
One of the volunteers who keeps the thrift store running smoothly is 94-year-old Paula Jett.
“To me it's such a tribute that a person has that much dedication. She works two days a week and is such a delight to her customers,” Willett said.
For the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, St. Vincent de Paul will offer 100 holiday meal baskets per holiday.
“We are currently signing up people for the 100 Thanksgiving food baskets,” Willett said. “We will be doing a different 100 families for Christmas.”
Many people in the community do help tremendously with St. Vincent de Paul's ministry. One of those people is Agnes George, who donates 100 hams, as well as sweet potatoes and pumpkins for the food baskets.
“We had a lady come in the other day wanting to know what she and a couple of her friends could gather for the holiday baskets,” Willett said. “That's so refreshing.”
Instead of its usual toy drive for Christmas, this year St. Vincent de Paul will be focusing on the elderly.
“We will be working with Dogwood Trails Assisted Living, home healthcare groups and some of the veterans groups to provide a gift basket for the elderly who don't have any family or who are lonely at Christmas and would appreciate that gesture,” Willett said.
Dogwood Trails Assisted Living will hold an Indian taco food drive in November. Four cans of food will be the cost of admission.
“All of the food collected will go to St. Vincent de Paul, that's another way the public can help support us,” Willett said.
Monetary donations can be sent to St. Vincent de Paul at the following address: SVDP, 503 N. Queen St., Palestine, TX, 75801. For more information, call Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 903-729-2463.
The St. Vincent de Paul board includes Willett as president, treasurer Pete Garza and secretary Irma Cobbs.