By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published June 23, 2005
Vincentians are fighting hunger one step at a time—by the sweat of their brow and the burn in their muscles.
Celebrating $23,000 raised for the St. Vincent de Paul Society in this year’s Hunger Walk/Run at Turner Field, the Catholic lay-run charity held a barbecue June 15 at the Atlanta Community Food Bank to honor outstanding fund-raisers.
Leading the Catholic pack of over 300 participating on the Society’s behalf was volunteer Emiliana Barnes, who raised $1,983 this year and last year collected $1,727. The next walk/run will be held March 12, 2006.
For about five years the SVDP Society has collaborated with the Food Bank in sponsoring the Hunger Walk
Nina Harrison, executive director of the Society, said the event is extremely beneficial in raising awareness about hunger and about the work of the Food Bank and five other participating faith-based organizations. Next year she hopes to have the Society also solicit donated goods at the event. “There’s a lot of energy. It’s obviously a very good cause for all of us.”
Added Marty Kraft, SVDP director of communications, “We try to promote friendly competition among parishes” in raising money for and participating in the Hunger Walk.
The Society is always seeking food donations, and at times purchases food from the Food Bank, which has “a very sophisticated distribution center,” Kraft said. Clients can get food at the main SVDP office on Chamblee Tucker Road or through 43 SVDP food pantries mostly based in parishes. This year SVDP opened mobile collection sites at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Fairburn, run by students, and at the Doraville Plaza Shopping Center on Buford Highway near I-285, where people can drop off clothing, food, toys and small appliances. They particularly need donations with a long shelf life such as pasta, rice, canned goods, dry boxed potatoes, beans and cereal. They’ve also begun a new program where they collect plastics for recycling and used computers, which will either be refurbished and made available to clients or recycled.
The Society’s fasting growing programs are its educational services. Since opening in 1999 its Learning Center has grown from 200 students to over 700 in 2004. Harrison said the program is international with immigrants largely from Latin America but also from Africa and elsewhere; they have one of the only area GED preparation courses offered in Spanish. They partner with Catholic Social Services, Harrison said, noting that a CSS computer instructor now teaches in space provided by SVDP.
Learning Center students “really have an enthusiasm to be part of society and to get better jobs for themselves and their families. It’s a highly energetic group,” she said. “At the Learning Center we are just bursting at the seams.”
The Society is an independent lay-run Catholic charity, which collaborates with 54 other social service agencies and provides a wide array of social services. They offer classes in computers, in life skills, in GED preparation, in English and in citizenship. They have eight metro area thrift stores. They also provide individual client counseling and temporary assistance with food, rent and utility payments, housing and other needs.
The Atlanta SVDP Conference was honored with a 2005 Martin Luther King Jr. Service Award by Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and Goizueta Business School for 100 years of service to help and empower those in need.
Among many other initiatives, they’re planning their first regional Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory Invitational Track Meet fund-raiser for Catholic high schools next spring with a goal to invite schools eventually throughout the Southeast.
Harrison attended the National Hunger Awareness Day at Ebenezer Baptist Church and, while disappointed more people didn’t attend, was moved by Archbishop Gregory’s remarks about the call to help the hungry, which fosters transformation in those serving and those served.
“I think the archbishop’s remarks were absolutely terrific and insightful, which I believe him to be, and I think they were heartfelt,” she said.
The Society can be reached at (770) 458-5415 or at www.svdpatl.org.