By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 16, 2008
Volunteers with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are to bridge the gap between the poor and the well-to-do, telling the life stories of the poor so society cares more, according to the president of DePaul University.
Vincentian Father Dennis Holtschneider said the poor are largely ignored in this country. “But you know their stories. Tell what you know. Give voice to the poor.”
Speaking at the second annual Evening for Hope gala for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Father Holtschneider said many new people out of work will start to show up for the charity’s services. People will be helped and it is equally important that the community know why people are unemployed, he said.
“It is not enough to keep feeding people if the society can play a role in changing the things that are making them poor in the first place,” he said.
Some 600 benefactors and volunteers attended the Oct. 4 celebration at the Cobb Galleria. Father Holtschneider was the keynote speaker. Some $60,000 was raised for the charity’s programs. It began with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
In 2007, the organization served approximately 135,000 people in North Georgia and delivered $4.7 million in aid. The charity helped more than 600 students and 273 new beds were delivered with its Sweet Dreams program. It runs nine thrift stores, 33 food pantries and a variety of other services. The organization began in Atlanta in 1903.
Recognition was also given to longtime volunteers, both from St. Paul of the Cross Church, Atlanta.
Billie Pitts Williams has been a member of the society since 1965. Williams has served as a caseworker and food pantry manager with the charity at her parish.
Elie Jones was one of the founding members of the conference at his church more than 40 years ago. He has worked as a caseworker and treasurer. In the late 1970s, Jones served as the president of the Atlanta Council of the society.
Also, the society recognized its outgoing president. Jim Rosentreter was applauded for his six years of service as the society’s president, a volunteer position. The society also saluted the local office of Kraft Foods for its support. The family of the late James Jardina accepted an award in his name. The former parishioner at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church left a bequest to the organization.
Guests also attending included FOX 5 News anchor Russ Spencer, who served as the emcee, and Vince Dooley, the beloved athletic director at the University of Georgia.
The economic crisis in the headlines today mirrors the situation when the society started in the 19th century. It began with the inspiration of Blessed Frederic Ozanam. From a gathering of 600 people meeting in Paris that cared for the poor and illiterate, the society now stretches around the world and assists people in great numbers.
“God blessed it beyond Ozanam’s imaginations,” Father Holtschneider said.
Reading from a letter written by the society’s founder, Father Holtschneider said volunteers for the society can “bring presents to the poor and words of gratitude to the rich, getting used to them looking on one another as brothers, infusing them with a bit of mutual charity.”
Now, a “perfect economic storm” of the mortgage crisis has swept away famous corporations, along with hundred of thousands of jobs, Father Holtschneider said.
He said there is a lot of focus on pointing fingers and assigning blame. But the work of the society goes beyond that, he said, and instead “gets to the heart of the matter, (by asking) what do you need?”
Father Holtschneider said volunteers should speak up for the poor, telling about their obstacles and their bad choices.
“Your stories have more power to create change than you properly realize. If we dare to tell their stories that we know, people’s hearts will change. And the work that we do will grow,” he said.