By PAUL A. BARRA
LEXINGTON —Based on information divulged at the Midlands District Councils quarterly meeting on April 27, Americans ought to be holding up the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as the standard for an efficient charity. Vincentians in the seven Midlands conferences will give away about $180,000 in cash on their charitable work this year, not counting thousands of unpaid labor hours; they will spend less than $1,100 on operational expenses.
That comes out to 0.6 percent, compared to about 20 percent for other charities. SVdP in South Carolina is staffed entirely by volunteers.
“We do it because we want to,” said Tom Serra, district president. “We don’t need to get paid.”
The society is a Catholic lay organization that has as its stated mission the spiritual growth of its members through “offering person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering ….” The Vincentians in the Diocese of Charleston visit shut-ins and patients in mental hospitals, hold regular events at nursing homes, collect food and supplies for migrants and the homeless and feed them; they help people with rent payments and electric bills. The Our Lady of the Hills conference collected and spent more than $4,000 on a migrant girl’s dental bills last month. President Sherry Marshall found the parishioner response to their plea for money “overwhelming.”
Although Serra said that historically about 97 percent of the people the St. Vincent de Paul helps are non-Catholics, sometimes that fact itself pays serendipitous dividends. Cleo A. Hoover, president of the host parish conference at Corpus Christi Church, told the story of one family that fell on hard times and appealed for help.
“We had one couple who came into the Catholic Church because the St. Vincent de Paul society helped them when they were in a family crisis. They couldn’t get assistance anywhere else, and we don’t ask questions about their faith. Afterwards, they went to RCIA and became Catholics,” Hoover said.
The actual number of active Vincentians in South Carolina is small, less than 150 in the entire Midlands area. Many people come to meetings and help for a while, especially following ministry fairs at parishes, according to the conference presidents, but most do not stay active for long. It requires more of a commitment than most can afford to make. Although all the presidents agreed that manpower is their greatest need, it does not slow their efforts.
“We don’t fret about it. We really believe this is a special calling,” said Paulette Campbell-Miller, president of the St. Peter’s Conference in Columbia.
District Council Treasurer David Mullaney of St. Joseph in Columbia agreed: “It must be a calling, because right now I’m missing my son’s soccer game. There is just a greater good in what we’re doing.”
Other Midlands presidents are Mitch Michaelis of St. Joseph, Dennis Simmons of St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken, Donna Willis of St. Anne in Rock Hill and Maryanne Genus of St. Philip Neri in Fort Mill.