St. Vincent de Paul chapter celebrates serving needs in all forms

By Galen Holley
COLUMBUS – “We’ve helped with everything from prom dresses and graduation gowns to utilities and rent,” said Overstreet, who helps coordinate more than 20 parishioners, all of whom meet with clients and listen.

St. Vincent de Paul was a French priest and zealous advocate for the poor, who died in 1660. He was canonized by the church in 1737. He founded the order named the Vincentians.

The SVDP volunteers meet between masses to discuss and make plans. Once they set things in motion, volunteers assist with everything from rent and utilities to car repair. Recently, they’ve even begun a vibrant dental ministry.

COLUMBUS – Supporters of St. Vincent de Paul in Columbus recently gathered at Graham’s Camphouse to celebrate 20 years of assisting families in need. To date, the SVDP ministry has given more than $1.2 million in in outreach to the Columbus community. (Photo courtesy of Katie Braswell)

The genesis of the SVDP Society reaches back two decades, to the arrival of Steve Greenough. He came to Annunciation from the U.K, where he had been involved in the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Along the same time, Karen Overstreet’s husband, Raymond, had been discussing the possibility of an outreach program with Father Gerry Hurley, who was then the parish priest. Raymond is a psychiatrist, and he’d been concerned about homelessness, poverty and a spectrum of needs in the community. Father Hurley put Geenough and Raymond in conversation with each other, and the ministry was born.

Things started slowly.

“People just gave what they could. They gave out of their own pockets,” said Karen Overstreet. To date, the SVDP ministry has given more than $1.2 million in outreach. Support for the program comes mostly from donations. The SVDP volunteers coordinate with other ministries in town, including the Salvation Army, Helping Hands and the Homeless Coalition.

Dental care is a huge need that Helping Hands partners with SVDP on in the community. “We see a lot of clients coming out of alcohol and drug treatment who haven’t taken good care of their teeth,” said Jennifer Garrar, executive director of Helping Hands of Columbus.

After getting clean and sober, many have difficulty with their appearance and trying to reenter the workforce, said Garrar. After assisting with dental work, “several clients have come back to visit us just so we can see their new smile.”

With out the help of SVDP this wouldn’t be possible.

Annunciation parish celebrated 20 years of SVDP ministry with a dinner on Oct. 8. Among the guests were volunteers, past and present, as well as donors and the three priests who’ve shepherded the community throughout the ministry’s run: Fathers Robert Dore, Gerry Hurley and, current pastor, Jeffery Waldrep.
Waldrep has been at Annunciation for six years, and said he’s deeply gratified at the vibrancy of the ministry.

“This is the most active St. Vincent de Paul I’ve seen,” said Father Waldrep. “They’re honoring the legacy of St. Vincent de Paul not only in meeting the immediate needs of clients, but in visiting and praying with them and meeting their spiritual needs. They look at the whole person, rather than somebody who just needs their lights cut back on.”

Conducting an effective ministry takes not only professionalism and careful planning, but a gentle touch. SVDP volunteers meet people who are in a vulnerable state, and they take that seriously.

“One of the biggest things we do is encourage hope,” said Overstreet. “When people have to admit to making a mess of things and not being able to provide for their family, it can be very tough, and we try to make sure those people feel safe and loved, and not ashamed.”

As is often the case, those who minister end up feeling at least as cared for and loved as those whom they serve.

“It’s just a beautiful ministry,” said Overstreet. “The church members benefit so much from it. It instills such a tremendous sense of gratitude in all of us. It’s wonderful.”

Galen Holley is a member of St. Francis of Assisi in New Albany.