Mission of St. Vincent DePaul Society:
Blessed Frederic Ozanam, the founder of the St. Vincent DePaul Society, once said, “I would like to embrace the whole world in a network of charity”. Ray Andrasak and SJB’s St. Vincent DePaul Society (SVDP) embrace the poor in our corner of the world every day. For the past 14 years, Ray has been a part of a group of dedicated volunteers that help Parma Heights and Brook Park friends in need who call upon our church for emergency assistance. Ray has led this ministry for the last three years. According to Ray, “The Vincentians serve as the arm of the parish to assist those who most need help with food, clothing, rent, and utility bills.”
As their two children were growing up, Brook Park residents Ray and his wife Diane helped to lead the Youth Group and Life Teen Ministries at SJB. After their children left home, a friend invited them to an SVDP meeting, and as Ray says, “We found our niche.”
Background of the SVDP at SJB
SJB’s SVDP conference, which was originally commissioned in 1968, currently consists of 23 active members and three associate members. It is one of 63 conferences in the Cleveland Diocese, and certainly one of the most energetic. The Diocesan SVDP Council trains all volunteers on the most effective ways to interact with and evaluate the needs of the impoverished.
How Do the Vincentians Work?
At SJB, members rotate their responsibilities. Working in teams of two, each team spends one month per year responding to phone messages requesting help. The phone volunteers then follow up with calls to the requesters within 24 hours and discern the best approach to meet their needs. In responding to the needs of the callers, Ray reminds the Vincentians, “Whatever decision you make to help them, it will be the right one because it comes from the heart.” All information from callers is kept strictly confidential.
Before Covid, teams visited the homes of the needy to address the requests for help. Since the pandemic, requesters are asked to meet with SVDP team members at the Bell Tower. In 2020, SJB’s Vincentians responded to 439 calls for assistance, made 80 home visits and held 117 Bell Tower meetings with the friends in need.
In addition to fielding calls, SVDP members spend the first Saturday of each month stocking shelves, packing grocery bags, and distributing food at the Ozanam Food Pantry in Cleveland. SJB’s Vincentians also try to provide guidance to requesters on how to improve their situations going forward. “We try to point them in the right direction by giving names of agencies that provide counseling with budget planning, job searching, or personal issues,” notes Ray. SVDP volunteers try to uplift the needy spiritually as well. According to Ray, “We try to pray with them and tell them that they are welcome at our church.”
Each weekend during Lent, the SVDP is collecting canned goods and packaged products in the Church vestibule. These items will be distributed to the Ozanam and Parma Heights food pantries. The July collection is earmarked for school supplies while the October collection is designated for blankets. The Vincentians also prepare Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for the friends in need. In one instance last year, SVDP collected sufficient funds to purchase necessary medical equipment for a local resident.
Ask Ray for More Information
A humble and compassionate man, Ray is surprisingly not a social worker, but a retiree from the steel and plastics industries. For more information about volunteering for SVDP, contact Ray Andrasak through the Parish Office.
By Christine and Robert Martuch