About St. Vincent de Paul and Services

By Corie Stark

The humble, blue building on Watkins Street in downtown Phoenix, Ariz. is much more than just a shelter for the homeless community.

It's an escape, a refuge.

It's a home to create new families.

Most importantly, it is a place to share stories.

Since 1946, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Arizona has created various services to aid those in need. Anything from thrift stores to transitional housing is offered. More than 16,000 volunteers offer their help to create a freely flowing system.

The downtown Phoenix St. Vincent serves as a dining hall, producing fresh meals and refusing no one every day of the week. By the end of the year, 10 million pounds of food will be served.

The kitchen opens at 11 a.m. and doesn't shut its doors until 1 p.m. Regulars bustle in and out, updating volunteers on their situations.

Some newcomers eagerly jump into the mix, while others stay back. It doesn't take long until the entire room is filled with a mixed group gleefully chatting, occasionally stealing a few moments to take a bite of food.

Their stories get more interesting as the time dwindles. And while the days seem routine to volunteers and staff, no client's day is the same as another.

Each person's is different, whether it be about fighting the system, battling bad luck or rising above.

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Dining Hall Becomes a Living Room

By Chelsey Heath

An hour after lunch was served at St. Vincent, the doors opened again. Clients were invited to watch the Cardinals beat the Cowboys on flat-screen TVs under the sports posters hung from the ceiling. For the roughly three hours the game was on, the dining room seemed like any other living room in the state. The announcers blared over the PA system, while cheers or boos followed the plays.

The largest TV in the room had to be wheeled in. It was placed in a corner, with chairs right in front. Behind it was a large picture of Muhammad Ali.

St. Vincent food services manager Jerry Castro said the TVs, along with a raised stage and PA system, were donated by the Celebrity Fight Night Foundation about five years ago. Other donors paid for a DIRECTV connection. Castro said they show baseball and football each year.

Castro said the clients enjoy coming in and watching the games – it gives them a safe place to go and a feeling of camaraderie. Some games have drawn as many as 150 clients at a time.

Some Cardinals players have visited St. Vincent. A Larry Fitzgerald jersey hangs from the ceiling. Ken Whisenhunt and Anquan Boldin have also stopped by.

Football games aren't the only thing they use the donations for. Castro said that Never Give Up, a Monday program where a community leader comes and gives an inspirational message to their clients on the stage, has been going for about five years. Business leaders and sports greats have given these messages.

Castro said that neither the meal nor the games would be possible with the dedicated St. Vincent staff members and volunteers that come each day.

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Volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul grateful for opportunities

By Corie Stark

Fran Christie has a full time job working in a mortgage company but that doesn't steal her away from her true passion: volunteering.

"It makes you feel good knowing you're trying to help somebody," she said.

Christie spent every first Sunday of 2011 at St. Vincent de Paul in downtown Phoenix. At 10:15 a.m., she arrives, smile and gratuity in tow, to help the shelter feed the local homeless community.

The petite blond has been volunteering for six years through her church, La Casa de Christo. Typically, the Lutheran establishment brings 20-25 people to help out.

"We do anything from serving trays, to giving out water and cleaning up afterward," she said. "We basically clean no matter where we work."

On her last Sunday, Christie handed small cups of buttered popcorn to eager clients—a small treat in an otherwise rough world.

"You really realize no matter how bad you have it, it's not as bad as you could by listening to their stories," she said.

By noon, she had already cooked through 36 packages of popcorn and heard countless stories of struggles and triumphs.

"There are some regulars and I know their stories. But there's new people, too," she said.

Another volunteer, Chris Clark, echoes those sentiments.

"I come here just because I know the flip of a dime, especially with this economy, it could be you or me," he said. "And if it were me, I'd want as much help as I could get."

Clark volunteers every four to six months through his church, St. Gabriel's. St. Vincent de Paul predominantly attracts church groups as volunteers. Over 16,000 people a year adorn blue smocks and offer guiding hands.

Most churches in the valley have St. Vincent de Paul representatives that initially contact the shelter's kitchen looking for available opportunities. From there, the kitchen blocks four to five dates. Then, it's merely a matter of meshing dates.

Clark says on any given day, there are between 50-60 volunteers.

His volunteer duties generally include providing new clothes. But he goes wherever he is needed.

"I like any job where I'm able to interact," he said. "Little things like 'have a great day' and trying to get them to laugh or smile, I like."

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