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St. Vincent de Paul dining rooms provide more than just food

Feed. Clothe. House. Heal.

That’s what we do at St. Vincent de Paul every day. But we do more than that — we transform people’s lives:

• From homeless to hopeful.

• From vulnerable to valuable.

• From lonely to loved.

The need and demand for our services is huge throughout the year, but it is especially critical as we begin the holiday season.

Government can only do so much. Then it’s up to us as citizens to do the rest in helping our brothers and sisters in need.

That’s why St. Vincent de Paul along with Bashas’, 12 News and other partners sponsor Turkey Tuesday, the biggest one-day turkey drive in the country. That’s coming up this Tuesday, Nov. 26, and we hope to once again collect more than 20,000 turkeys. Volunteers deliver the turkeys, along with Thanksgiving meal fixings, to families in need.

For 67 years, St. Vincent de Paul has served individuals and their families without regard to race, creed, color or religious affiliation. Our mission is especially focused on those who are doing everything in their own power to improve their lives.

Someone who only sees the food boxes or the rent checks or the beds in our homeless shelter really doesn’t understand who we are — or what we really do. We not only meet their basic needs. We give them hope. We give them love.

There are a lot of people in our community who need that help, who need that love. Here are two disturbing figures:

• 19 — That’s the percent of Arizona’s population living in poverty.

• 27 — That’s the percent of children who don’t have enough to eat — more than 1 in 4.

How do families survive? How can they make it? Without St. Vincent de Paul and other community nonprofits, many of them wouldn’t — many of them couldn’t — make it.

And they wouldn’t make it without the generous financial support of people who care enough to give their money and volunteer their time.

One way legislators and the governor have made it easier for people to support this work is through the working poor tax credit. This year, it was made even easier by eliminating the requirement to itemize their deductions in order to qualify for the state tax credit.

Without this revenue each year,

St. Vincent de Paul simply would not be able to serve the growing number of individuals and families that come to us for help.

Here’s one example: Last year alone, St. Vincent de Paul was the main referral source for the Maricopa County Community Information and Referral 2-1-1 line, receiving 22,152 referrals by phone from community residents in need of help. This included requests for rent and utility assistance, food, furniture, household goods, clothing, infant formula, and gas vouchers.

Imagine for a moment a single mother who loses her job. Her family now comes to St. Vincent de Paul’s dining room for dinner — and companionship. You can picture how painful it is for this mother. She is trying so hard to provide for her children.

That’s why we never refer to our dining rooms as soup kitchens. That’s why we put table clothes on the tables and have volunteer waiters who take their order.

It’s why we created our Dream Center where we read to the children and do arts and crafts and science projects.

Yes, the food is important but it’s only the beginning. For whenever I’m in the dining room and a mother says “thank you,” it’s never for the food. It’s always for the people, for the respect and the dignity and the fact that they are not alone.

But here’s what makes this even more special, what brings a sense of grace and beauty — the volunteers. Ask them and they will tell you, the real blessing is to them.

That is the miracle of St. Vincent de Paul. When we reach out to those in need, they in turn give back to us.

What our volunteers and our donors have taught me is that the more one shares with others — the greater one’s abundance.

Learning that has profoundly changed my life.

Each of us during this holiday season has the opportunity to make our community a better place — a better place for those less fortunate, a society where no one is left alone, without a prayer or a friend.

Feed. Clothe. House. Heal.  … LOVE.

Isn’t this what we were created to do?

Steve Zabilski, executive director, St. Vincent de Paul, Phoenix.

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